Microbial Life Beneath the Ice

Researchers uncover a diverse microbial community living beneath 27 meters of ice in Antarctica’s Lake Vida.

Jef Akst
Jef Akst

Jef Akst is managing editor of The Scientist, where she started as an intern in 2009 after receiving a master’s degree from Indiana University in April 2009 studying the mating behavior of seahorses.

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Nov 26, 2012

Lake Vida field camp, erected for about a month in 2010 in the Victoria Valley, AntarcticaCourtesy of Emanuele Kuhn, Desert Research Institute, Reno, NevadaThe super salty waters of Lake Vida in Antarctica have been isolated from the surface by a thick layer of ice for nearly 3,000 years, but that doesn’t mean they don’t harbor a diverse array of microbial life. Drilling through the ice and taking samples of the water below, microbial environmentalist Alison Murray of the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nevada, and her colleagues found troves of metabolically active microbes in the oxygen-free, very salty water, or brine.

“Lake Vida is not a nice place to make a living in,” coauthor Peter Doran of the University of Illinois at Chicago told Nature. “It is quite remarkable that something wants to live in that cold, dark, and salty environment at all.”

The findings, published yesterday...

“For sure, there is a lot of energy in the brine,” Murray told Nature. “Carbon may be the primary energy source, but hydrogen may be vital to sustain the lake’s microbial life in the long-term.”

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Microbial Life Beneath the Ice

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