New research points to over 3500 species in Antarctics Lake Vostok

first_imgIn the middle of the frozen Antarctic wastes, 800 miles from the South Pole is Lake Vostok. Well, it would be more correct to say that it’s under 2 miles of solid ice, but why quivel? This massive pocket of water has been sealed in the ice for 15-35 million years, and scientists now believe it could harbor life.It took years to drill down to the lake, which was only reached by Russian scientists in 2012. Reports have since gone back and forth on whether or not there is life in the ancient lake’s liquid reservoir, but now researchers have found the best evidence for life yet. According to a report in the journal PLOS ONE, samples of ice from just above the lake show traces of DNA from over 3500 different species.These are fragments of DNA locked in ice, not full sequences. As such, we aren’t able to know exactly which organisms they come from, but it is possible to reach some general conclusions. About 95% of the sequences isolated come from bacteria with the other 5% coming from more complicated eukaryotic organisms and archaea. In this context, eukaryotic probably means mostly single-cell creatures, not multicellular eukaryotes.Some of the sequences hint at higher levels of complexity in the lake. Some of the DNA is a close match for small arthropods and mollusks. Perhaps more interestingly, some of the bacteria species are thought to be of a type found in the GI tract of fish. That could mean fish are still swimming somewhere in that ancient lake.The researchers believe many of the species detected are associated with hydrothermal vents in the ocean. If those features are present in Lake Vostok it could explain how it remains liquid and from where the energy for a thriving ecosystem comes.Lake Vostok is big — 160 miles long and 30 miles wide with an average depth of about a quarter of a mile. It’s going to take time to get probes into the lake to check for living creatures, but these results are encouraging. Bizarre forms of life could have evolved in Lake Vostok over millions of years.last_img read more