The first signs of potentially exotic life have been spotted in a sample of water drawn from Antarctica’s hidden Lake Whillans, a half-mile beneath the surface, according to reports from the scene.
The telltale green glow of cells stained with a DNA-sensitive dye could be seen when water from the lake was put under the microscope on Monday, Discover Magazine’s Crux blog reported. “It was the first evidence of life in an Antarctic subglacial lake,” science journalist Douglas Fox reported for The Crux. Fox is an embedded journalist reporting from Lake Whillans under the auspices of a National Science Foundation program.
The U.S. scientists in charge of the project to drill into Lake Whillans — known as the Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling, or WISSARD — will be more circumspect: They’ll have to demonstrate that the green-glowing cells are truly alive and capable of growing in culture. They’ll also conduct tests to make sure that the microbes are indigenous to the lake, rather than the result of contamination from the drilling operation.
Last year, Russian scientists analyzed water from Lake Vostok, an even deeper and bigger subglacial lake beneath Antarctica’s Vostok Station, but the only microbes they found in the sample were surface-dwelling species that may have come from contaminated drilling chemicals rather than the lake itself.
During the current Antarctic research season, the Russians resumed their drilling at Vostok. They said earlier this month that they had reached transparent lake ice at a depth of 3.4 kilometers (2.1 miles). Since then, they’ve reported retrieving “fresh frozen” ice cores from slightly deeper levels.
The Russian and U.S. teams are drilling into the lakes in hopes of finding evidence of life forms that could have been living in the dark for thousands of years, or even millions of years. Theoretically, such organisms could live off the minerals in deep-buried rock, plus oxygen dissolved in the lake water. …