A while ago, we were telling you about the very exciting environment that is lake Vostok. The lake has been sealed under ice for more than a million years; researchers believed that it still harbored life, possibly bacterian life that evolved on a parallel evolution line.
Now, Russian researchers believe they confirmed that hunch, finding a totally new type of bacteria. The samples obtained from the underground lake in May 2012 contained bacteria that resembles no other type, said Sergei Bulat of the genetics laboratory at the Saint Petersburg Institute of Nuclear Physics:
“After putting aside all possible elements of contamination, DNA was found that did not coincide with any of the well-known types in the global database,” he said. “We are calling this life form unclassified and unidentified,” he added.
In May, a team of Russian scientists drilled through several kilometers of ice to reach the surface of the lake, in a controversial action that risked to contaminate the pristine bacterial life in Vostok. Lake Vostok is the largest subglacial lake in Antarctica and scientists have long wanted to study its eco-system. The bacteria they describe is less than 86 percent similar similar to previously existing forms – which is a huge difference!
“In terms of work with DNA this is basically zero. A level of 90 percent usually means that the organism is unknown.”
According to him, the creature is so different that it’s even impossible to find its genetic descendants.
“If this had been found on Mars everyone would have undoubtedly said there is life on Mars. But this is bacteria from Earth.”
As promising as these results are, he hopes that in the Summer, new, better samples will pain an accurate picture of what is happening in Vostok – hopefully, contamination won’t set in by then.
“If we manage to find the same group of organisms in this water we can say for sure that we have found new life on Earth that exists in no database,” Bulat said.
Exploring extreme environments such as Lake Vostok has been recently given a new meaning, considering how astrobiologists now believe that places like Europa (a moon of Jupiter), which are frozen, but harbor a liquid ocean beneath the surface are much more likely for life than Mars.