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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Life in Lake Vostok

Lake Vostok is the 7th largest and 4th deepest lake on Earth. If you're wondering why you've never seen it on a map, it's because Lake Vostok is located in Antarctica under nearly 4000 meters of ice. And that's not even the most interesting thing about it. Despite this less than ideal location, Lake Vostok does contain life. 

Lake Vostok is the largest and probably the deepest of Antarctica’s subglacial lakes. In order to find out what types of life might be lurking in those pitch black, high pressure waters, researchers from Bowling Green State University examined frozen ice cores samples (see my previous post about Antarctic subglacial lakes). Sections of the ice cores that were close to the liquid surface of the lake (shown by the arrows in the picture below) were carefully brought to the lab, melted and analyzed for nucleic acids.



Schematic cross-section of Lake Vostok (above), drawn to scale. 
Credit: Yury M. Shtarkman et al. Subglacial Lake Vostok (Antarctica) Accretion Ice Contains a Diverse Set of Sequences from Aquatic, Marine and Sediment-Inhabiting Bacteria and Eukarya. 
PLoS ONE, 2013; 8 (7): e67221 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0067221.

Most of the life forms were bacteria. The 4% that were eukaryotes were mostly fungi. I found it interesting that the authors made a point to say that the newly discovered creatures 
were similar to organisms specific to lakes, brackish water, marine environments, soil, lake sediments, deep-sea sediments, deep-sea thermal vents, animals and plants.
Well, that seems to cover pretty much everything. They were similar to other life on Earth then, I guess. So, little chance that life hiding under two miles of ice was of extraterrestrial origin. Good to know.


Yury M. Shtarkman, Zeynep A. Ko├žer, Robyn Edgar, Ram S. Veerapaneni, Tom D’Elia, Paul F. Morris, & Scott O. Rogers (2013). Subglacial Lake Vostok (Antarctica) Accretion Ice Contains a Diverse Set of Sequences from Aquatic, Marine and Sediment-Inhabiting Bacteria and Eukarya PLoS ONE DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0067221.