Scientists have discovered more than 3,500 unique gene sequences in Lake Vostok – the underground Antarctic water reservoir isolated from the outside world for 15 million years – revealing a complex ecosystem far beyond anything they could have expected.
“The bounds on what is habitable and what is not are changing,” said Scott Rogers, Bowling Green State University professor of biological sciences, who led a genetic study of the contents of half a liter of water brought back from the lake after it was drilled by Russian scientists last year.
“We found much more complexity than anyone thought,” Rogers said. “It really shows the tenacity of life, and how organisms can survive in places where a couple dozen years ago we thought nothing could survive.”
There are few places on Earth more hostile to life forms than Lake Vostok, the largest subglacial lake in the Antarctic, and initially Rogers believed that the water from it may have been completely sterile.
Water is located 4,000 meters below the ice, which completely blocks sunlight, and creates huge pressure on the liquid. It is also literally located in the coldest place on Earth: the world’s lowest temperature of -89.2C was recorded at Vostok Station above the reservoir.
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