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Earth Science

Ancient Ecosystem Found In Ice Pocket 49

Posted by timothy
from the so-it's-not-a-traditional-honeymoon-suite dept.
ApharmdB writes "Beneath a glacier in Antarctica, scientists have discovered a community of microbes growing in frigid pools of salty water. It's a particularly tough environment, with no light, no oxygen, and extremely cold temperatures. But the microbes appear to live — and thrive — off a combination of iron and sulfur, according to a new study. The result of that strange metabolism is a brilliant red streak of cascading ice called Blood Falls."
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Ancient Ecosystem Found In Ice Pocket

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  • Well (Score:1, Redundant)

    by Stormcrow309 (590240)
    I, for one, welcome our new Blood Ice Masters... at least until I get the blow torch out. It is neat to see where life will thrive.
  • Similarity (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Verteiron (224042) on Friday April 17, 2009 @08:27AM (#27611209) Homepage

    A red streak, huh? Looking at the picture, it's sort of a orange-red rust color. A rust-colored streak in the middle of a bunch of ice. What does it remind me of? Ah, yes [nasa.gov].

    • I suppose we'd better tell any boats in the area to avoid landing there, eh?
    • I think all these considerations about extremophiles showing the possibility of life in other planets rather unsound.

      There's no evidence that life could ever appear in such environments starting from abiotic conditions, it seems pretty obvious these organisms evolved from more benign habitats.

      • by jeffb (2.718) (1189693) on Friday April 17, 2009 @08:50AM (#27611563)

        There's no evidence that life could ever appear in such environments starting from abiotic conditions, it seems pretty obvious these organisms evolved from more benign habitats.

        Like, say, a moon that's crunchy on the outside, but warm on the inside? With lots of organics and water?

        I don't think Europa is a perfect haven for biology, but I can easily imagine a race somewhere that has a complete explanation for how they evolved under an ice crust, and that would scoff at the notion of life on the exposed, irradiated, violent surface of a planet...

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward

          I don't think Europa is a perfect haven for biology, but I can easily imagine a race somewhere that has a complete explanation for how they evolved under an ice crust, and that would scoff at the notion of life on the exposed, irradiated, violent surface of a planet...

          I'm not sure I would consider slashdotters a "race", but I for one and comforted by my maternal subterranean lair, and agree with the above statement.

      • by Verteiron (224042)

        Like the nice, safe, warm, possibly sulfur-filled depths of the ocean beneath Europa's frozen surface?

      • by vamin (1356057)
        Actually, some of the reactions required for abiogenesis work better in ice: http://discovermagazine.com/2008/feb/did-life-evolve-in-ice/article_print [discovermagazine.com]
    • by b0ttle (1332811)
      Reminds me of Mars [universetoday.com].
    • by orkysoft (93727)

      Why does it remind you of a false color image?

      • by Verteiron (224042)

        Because, if you actually read the linked page, you'll see that the rust-colored streaks show up even on accurate color images. The false-color ones are clearly marked as such.

    • by blincoln (592401)

      A rust-colored streak in the middle of a bunch of ice. What does it remind me of? Ah, yes [nasa.gov].

      That is really interesting. It's obviously not as good as a true spectrograph, but it would be worth comparing the false-colour images NASA has on that same page with similar ones taken of rust (or ideally the Blood Falls) here on Earth to see if they match up. I can do that myself, minus the Blood Falls part (unless someone wants to pony up for a ticket). Maybe this weekend?

  • with an organism from an ice pocket?

    The red death is coming.

  • by codeButcher (223668) on Friday April 17, 2009 @08:27AM (#27611219)

    Ancient Ecosystem Found...

    from the so-it's-not-a-traditional-honeymoon-suite dept.

    ... discovered a community of microbes ... It's a particularly tough environment, with no light, no oxygen, and extremely cold temperatures. But the microbes appear to live -- and thrive -- off a combination of iron and sulfur, according to a new study.

    Pray tell, have they thought about looking in CowboyNeal's belly button yet?

  • How easy would it be to grow these microbes in a lab?

    I'm thinking zoos or classrooms would be good places for them.

    "Now children, who wants to feed the iron eating microbes?"

    Before any of this can happen I'd want a safety study. If these living creatures are harmful to plants, animals, or the other living creatures we depend on, then it's probably a no-go.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      If these living creatures are harmful to plants, animals, or the other living creatures we depend on, then it's probably a no-go.

      This is extremely unlikely. For a microbe to be able to live within another organism, it would have to have gone through generations and generations of mutation-driven evolution so that it would not be instantly killed by its host's immune system.

      • by CorporateSuit (1319461) on Friday April 17, 2009 @12:03PM (#27615975)

        This is extremely unlikely. For a microbe to be able to live within another organism, it would have to have gone through generations and generations of mutation-driven evolution so that it would not be instantly killed by its host's immune system.

        Things have changed. Now all they need is a good lawyer and they press charges against the immune system. The immune system is issued a cease and desist, and the microbes receive special protection under the state constitution against any further incursion from the immune system onto the microbes' new home.

  • where do the sulfur and iron come from? Neither the blurb or TFA say.

    I assume microorganism locked up in ice, no matter how hardy, can't find anything but frozen water in their environment. And looking at the size of the "blood falls", they're not just feeding on some trace elements that happened to be there when the ice formed.

    • by Opyros (1153335)
      According to Ars [arstechnica.com],

      The authors posit that the glacier itself might provide the source by extracting new iron as it scrapes across the underlying rocks.

    • TFA states the iron leaches from the bedrock, I presume the sulphur does too.
  • by Cornwallis (1188489) * on Friday April 17, 2009 @08:31AM (#27611275)
    After looking at the picture I imagine they are calling it Blood Falls because Diarrhea Falls wouldn't be quite so compelling.
  • by tttonyyy (726776) on Friday April 17, 2009 @08:31AM (#27611291) Homepage Journal

    That's nothing. I've discovered programmers working in grey cubicals of resolute despair. It's a particularly tough environment, with no light, no personal hygiene, and extremely bad management. But the programmers appear to live -- and thrive -- off a combination of electricity and light, according to a new study. The result of that strange metabolism is the brilliant ability to avoid work called "Reading Slashdot".

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      That's nothing. I've discovered programmers working in grey cubicals of resolute despair.

      I used to work with an engineer who would buy breakfast burritos containing pork, then leave them on top of his monitor to keep them warm, sometimes until the next day. I would be surprised not to find a complete ecosystem in his pockets.

  • If materials from this sub-glacial lake do seep out to the surface, as the photo seems to show, how on earth can we say the lake is 'isolated'? The proper term might be: contaminated! yes, the degree of contamination might be small, but this is 'science', no?
    • I just want to say "thank you" for that sig.

      Wanted to point it out myself to all those that find "There are 10 kinds of people..."-line brilliant enough to keep copy/pasting it around but as I fall in that last group you mentioned...

  • Are we sure their isn't more. How can science say this without getting Brendan Fraser involved. Science has failed us again.
  • You'd be surprised to know what's in my pockets...
  • I doubt even they were unaffected by the Credit Crunch.
  • I'm waiting for one of these pockets of entombed microbes to contain the most heinous superbug ever confronted by humanity.

    (mu ha ha ha)

    But seriously, I can't help but feel it's possible for something to have been cooped up so long that we have zero defenses, as though a meteor hand-delivered a fresh batch of Space Flu.

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      That works both ways - bacteria that are too foreign will not be able to survive in the human body. Especially things like these - they live in sub-freezing, completely dark, extremely salty areas and live on iron and sulfur.

      There's not a chance that they are going to be able to survive in an environment that is 60-70 degrees F warmer, virtually no salt or sulfur, only a bit of iron, and highly oxygenated.

      These are about the last things that we need to worry about becoming a "superbug".

  • Zombies in the ice?

    K.

  • Arthur C. Clarke FTW (Score:3, Interesting)

    by NonUniqueNickname (1459477) on Friday April 17, 2009 @10:54AM (#27614511)
    Maybe no one has read it. In Odyssey 3001 (The Final Odyssey) Clarke wrote about a sulfur-based life forms on Jupiter's Europa moon.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      Maybe no one has read it. In Odyssey 3001 (The Final Odyssey) Clarke wrote about a sulfur-based life forms on Jupiter's Europa moon.

      This particular microbe, however, is not sulfur-based. "Sulfur-based" would indicate that its molecules are largely built out of sulfur (as ours are of carbon), whereas these microbes only utilize sulfur in their energy production.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        Sorry, I misspoke when I said "Sulfur-based". The Europa critters in Odyssey 3001 metabolized sulfur, not sure of their composition. They were also said to be slower than earth life-forms, because metabolizing sulfur isn't as intensive as metabolizing oxygen.
  • Similar to.. (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    They also have similar "red snow" in the glaciers of the high sierra. Although in the high sierra's, the sun is extremely intense.
    http://waynesword.palomar.edu/plaug98.htm [palomar.edu]

  • by handy_vandal (606174) on Saturday April 18, 2009 @10:33AM (#27627011) Homepage Journal
    "In 1949 some friends and I came upon a noteworthy news item in Nature, a magazine of the Academy of Sciences. It reported in tiny type that in the course of excavations on the Kolyma River a subterranean ice lens had been discovered which was actually a frozen stream-and in it were found frozen specimens of prehistoric fauna some tens of thousands of years old. Whether fish or salamander, these were preserved in so fresh a state, the scientific correspondent reported, that those present immediately broke open the ice encasing the specimens and devoured them with relish on the spot."

    - Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Arachipelago

    Link [wnec.edu]

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