« The AGEMAP: Scientists Decipher the Secrets of Aging | Main | AutoCooker: Car Killing Ray Gun »

December 05, 2007

Secrets of Antarctica's 15-Million Year-Old Lake -A Galaxy Classic

Lakevostok Researchers have thawed ice estimated to be perhaps a million years old or more from above Lake Vostok, an ancient lake that lies hidden more than two miles beneath the frozen surface of Antarctica using novel genomic techniques to determine how tiny, living "time capsules" survived the ages in total darkness, in freezing cold, and without food and energy from the sun.

Lake_vostok_nsf_h Lake Vostok is located beneath four kilometers of ice in East Antarctica. The lake is approximately 250 km long and 50 km wide. The overlying ice provides a continuous paleo-climatic record of 400,000 years, although the lake water itself may have been isolated for as long as 15 million years.

Because of the long isolation, it's believed that Lake Vostok could contain new lifeforms, and unique geochemical processes. For five years, scientists in Russia and the United States have sought to probe the ancient lake to discover the secrets lying inside this pristine body of water.

A major issue is the reality that it is impossible to penetrate an isolated ecosystem without contaminating it. The catch 22 inherent in Lake Vostok is that the very thing that make it potentially unique: because of its millennia of isolation from the rest of the world, it cannot be explored without introduction of microbes from the outer world.

NASA has expressed interest in exploring the lake to search for microbes that might be similar to ones on other planets. How the bacteria get energy to survive is an important unanswered question. The lake could be an analog to Jupiter's moon Europa or subsurface Mars where conditions are similar.

The ice segments were cut from an 11,866-foot ice core drilled in 1998 through a joint effort involving the United States, Russia, and France. The core was taken from approximately two miles below the surface of Antarctica and 656 feet (200 meters) above the surface of the lake, and has since been stored at -35 degrees Celsius at the National Ice Core Laboratory, Denver, Colo.

"This lake may have been isolated for that long - 15 million years," said Lanoil, the principal investigator of the research project. "After nearly a year of preparation and verifying protocols, we are now ready to process the samples, and will examine the DNA of these microorganisms to understand how they survived in such an extreme environment."

Posted by Casey Kazan

Related Galaxy posts:

World's Oldest Living Microbes May Cast Light on Aging & Life on Mars
Will Jupiter's Moon -Europa- Provide the 1st Proof of Extraterrestrial Life? -A Galaxy Insight
Ancient Antarctic Microbes Revived in Lab

Antarctica -Mapping The White Continent

Story Link 1
Story Link 2


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Secrets of Antarctica's 15-Million Year-Old Lake -A Galaxy Classic:

» Encontrado misterioso lago de 15 millones de años de antiguedad en la Antártida (Ing) from meneame.net
El lago Vostok mide 250 kilometros de largo y 50 kilometros de ancho, hasta ahora estaba oculto, pero debido al cambio climático ha aparecido en la superficie de la antartida, los cientificos piensan que encontraran microorganismos que les ... [Read More]

» http://goodshit.phlap.net/2007/12/post_17604.html from GoodShit
Mystery of Antarctica's 15-Million Year-Old Lake | The Daily Galaxy: News from Planet Earth & Beyond Researchers have thawed ice estimated to be perhaps a million years old or more from above Lake Vostok, an ancient lake that lies hidden... [Read More]


And of course the inverse also true: It is impossible to examine the ecosystem of the lake without potentially contaminating the 'outside' world.

You have been stumbled upon!

What a story! just imagine the specimens that they might find, even multi celled organisms!

I had a wonderful passing of methane today which relieved me greatly. Enjoy the aroma!

Have you had potato latkes with sour cream or with apple sauce for Hanukkah? Now's the time!

Cool story, does NASA have any idea on how to proceed without contamination?

It is a great find, but it's worth having patience, because you may destroy some of the only living organisms left in the world.

-Diana Moneymaker


That is the probe scientists plan on using to explore Lake Vostok.

Pandora's box:
Once we examine the lake, we theoretically contaminate both "worlds", changing them forever.

Schroedinger's cat box:
The lake is in superposition, both containing organisms and not containing organisms until it is sampled.

Cool lake! but not cool enough for me to jump in!

Chris Jones

Just give it a couple months and we'll be uncovering the Old Ones. Hide the sled dogs! Cthulhu is a-thawin'!

Thanks Casey for sharing this.

wouldnt it be safe to drill a hole pitch a tent at the opening at the top , airsealed tent with all the contamination protection criterias met. get some samples using some kind of machinery or simple bottle attached to rod =P and then just investigate the findings.

Doesn't the Schroedinger Cat thought experiment only apply to quantum physics?

Oh well. I hope to hear more about these Elder Microbes in the near future :D

How is it possible to describe this lake as being in "East Antarctica?"

If you stand between the lake and the pole, it's north. If you're at the pole, everything is north! You can't flatten a map of Antarctica and say left is west and right is east. I doesn't work that way!

East Antarctica? How did you come up with that? East and West are mostly meaningless when describing a region near the north and south poles.

East Antarctica? How did you come up with that? East and West are mostly meaningless when describing a region near the north and south poles.

It's called East Antarctica by convention, as the hemisphere of the earth that covers it is generally considered "east" because it spans the 180 degrees east of Greenwich england where, again by convention, the system of longitudinal lines "officially" begins at zero degrees. The reasons are found in the history of Europe's geographical expoloration and economic expansion over the last few centuries.
Something that the environment of Lake Vostok might present is a possible petrie dish for any microbes carried by meteorites.
There appears to be a portion of the lake where the continental glacier ice interfaces with the lake, between the forward and trailing end's entrained lake ice. If that's the case there would be an interesting debris accumulation, a natural trap, just below that region from ice entrapped debris that would melt out and settle there in that impossibly still water. While AH8401 might not be conclucive, there is no question that life's tenacity not necessarily excluded and considering how our estimates have been so consistently conservative, it's gonna be an interesting look-around.

Jimmy Hoffa, here we come to bust ya out of that cooler.

Post a comment

If you have a TypeKey or TypePad account, please Sign In