Ancient Microbes Survived 3,000 Years Without Light or Air

© Ema Kuhn

Even though life continues to turn up in strange places, it's still a surprise when something really new is found in an unlikely place. Though it's not as exciting as a arsenic-based life form, researchers in one of Antarctica's most inhospitable valleys have stumbled upon an ecosystem unlike any other.

By analyzing ice cores, the team found a bacteria thriving in a salt-dense environment that hasn't been exposed to air or sunlight for at least 3,000 years.

© Alison Murray

"This study provides a window into one of the most unique ecosystems on Earth," said Alison Murray, the report's lead author. "Our knowledge of geochemical and microbial processes in lightless icy environments, especially at subzero temperatures, has been mostly unknown up until now. This work expands our understanding of the types of life that can survive in these isolated, cryoecosystems and how different strategies may be used to exist in such challenging environments."

With an average temperature of eight degrees Fahrenheit, six times saltier water than seawater, and the highest nitrous oxide levels of any body of water on Earth, it's safe to call the Lake Vida research site a "challenging environment." While there is no direct application for helping threatened species in more conventional ecosystems, the research does extend understanding of the extreme reach and diversity of living things on this planet.

Tags: Antarctica | Bacteria