Bacteria that thrive in inhospitable regions like Antarctica could provide insight into how alien life could proliferate on planets like Mars or frigid moons like Enceladus and Europa. Scientists have discovered that these bacteria live on nothing but atmospheric energy, Newsweek reports, which is similar to some of the conditions on these planets.
These microbes get their energy from hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide in the air. These gasses dominate the atmosphere of the planets in outer space like Mars. It could mean that life on these planets only needs sustenance from these gasses to exist too.
Antartica has other conditions that make it similar to these planets as well. Of course, there are the sub-zero temperatures but the area is also subject to high levels of UV radiation. There are also low levels of hydrogen, carbon, and water. As Newsweek notes, no living things should be able to survive on Antartica but there is a vast and diverse ecosystem of microbial life in the region.
These microorganisms have adapted and learned to live on air. On examination, scientists have found that they have genes that endow them with an advanced “affinity” for hydrogen and carbon monoxide. They can suction they gas they need quickly and efficiently enough so that they can survive.
The research team was headed by scientists from Australia’s University of New South Wales. According to The Independent, they were studying life on the continent’s dry coastal regions before they made their groundbreaking discovery. The dry regions are ice-free and particularly adverse to sustaining life and yet the bacteria thrive there.
The team extracted soil samples from two “pristine polar deserts” along the coast of East Antarctica and examined the DNA of the bacteria in the dirt.
The findings of the study were published in the journal, Nature.
According to an article on NASA’s website, reports coming from the Cassini mission to Saturn and The Hubble Space Telescope have shown that there’s a chemical energy on Saturn’s moon Enceladus that can sustain life. Hubble researchers have found similar evidence coming from Jupiter’s moon Europa. It’s another layer of discovery that can hopefully lead to more understanding of how life could exist in these hostile environments.