Antarctic’s Lake Vostok Is Teeming With Life

The Antarctic’s Lake Vostok is teeming with life, according to a report by researchers. The lake is buried under more than two miles of ice and has been for roughly 15 million years.

But despite being cut of for so many years, the lake could contain thousands of small organisms — and maybe even fish. Lake Vostok is Antarctica’s deepest subsurface lake.

The finding comes after scientists studied genetic material isolated from ice that froze onto the ice sheet as it moved over the lake. They operated on the belief that this content would hint at what kind of life is present in Vostok.

The lake was first identified by the Russians in 1956, then mapped by the British in the 1990s. The Antarctic lake is about 160 miles long, 30 miles wide, and about a quarter of a mile deep on average.

The news comes months after researchers suggested a new type of bacteria had been discovered from the Antarctic Lake Vostok. However, those findings were later discredited. But researchers working with the study published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE explained they took precautions against contamination.

Of the more than 3,500 different DNA sequences uncovered, about five percent of them could be more complex organisms called eukaryotes. Two of the sequences were linked to archaea. Slong with matching fungi and arthropods, the DNA sequences also were close matches to springtails, water fleas, and a mollusk.

Dr. Scott Rogers with Bowling Green State University in Ohio led the DNA analysis. He stated of the findings:

“We found much more complexity than anyone thought. 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.”

Rogers added, “The bounds on what is habitable and what is not are changing.” And scientists hope they can translate the findings from the Antarctic Lake Vostok to space, including Jupiter’s ice-covered moon Europa and Encleadus, which circles Saturn.

[Image via Nicolle Rager-Fuller / NSF]