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Bacteria found capable of thriving inside glaciers

Washington, Fri, 20 Jan 2012 ANI

Washington, Jan 20 (ANI): Scientists have found that some types of bacteria are able to live in a glacier-like atmosphere, making a case for the possibility of life to exist in the most extreme situations.


The bacteria - Chryseobacterium and Paenisporosarcina - showed signs of respiration in laboratory-made ice designed to closely simulate the temperatures and nutrient content found at the bottom of Arctic and Antarctic glaciers.


Carbon dioxide levels in the ice containing the bacteria, which were collected from glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica, indicated that respiration was occurring at temperatures ranging from negative 27 to positive 24 degrees Fahrenheit.


Corien Bakermans, assistant professor of microbiology, Penn State Altoona, along with Mark Skidmore, associate professor of geology, Montana State University determined the level of respiration by measuring the amount of carbon dioxide in the laboratory-made ice.


While humans obtain energy from sugar, the bacteria in this experiment used acetate, a form of vinegar. Like human respiration, the microbes take in the molecules, extract energy from them and breathe out carbon dioxide as a waste product.


Bakermans said the study may have implications for the search for life on other planets, like Mars, because some places on Mars are in the same temperature range as the temperature levels recorded during the experiment.


"Although there are a lot of other factors involved for life to take hold on other planets... we can still say that if microbes on Earth can do this, then there's the potential, at least, that microbes can do this on Mars," Bakerman was quoted as saying.


The researchers also performed a staining test to measure reproduction and cell viability. When cells are alive or dead, they leave a chemical footprint of those states. By applying stains to the bacteria in the laboratory-made ice, the researchers can find those chemicals and determine if the cells are alive and healthy.


According to Backermans, bacteria seem to grow best in cracks and crevices within the ice. The cracks create channels that allow water and nutrients to circulate.


"It's hard for nutrients to be exchanged in the ice... But these channels appear to give the microbes access to nutrients," she said.


She added that the bottom of glaciers may be more hospitable for the microbes than other parts of the glacier because the areas draw warmth and nutrients from the earth.


The findings were reported in a recent issue of Environmental Microbiology Reports. (ANI)


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