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LSU professor looks for life in and under antarctic ice
Date:8/31/2007

BATON ROUGE Antarctica is home to the largest body of ice on Earth. Prior to approximately 10 years ago, no one thought that life could exist beneath the Antarctic ice sheets, which can be more than two miles thick in places, because conditions were believed to be too extreme. However, Brent Christner, assistant professor of biological sciences at LSU, has spent a great deal of time in one of the worlds most hostile environments conducting research that proves otherwise.

Christners discoveries of viable microbes in ancient ice cores and subglacial environments coupled with the realization that large quantities of liquid water exist beneath the Antarctic ice sheet have changed the way biologists view life in Antarctica.

More than 150 lakes have been discovered underneath nearly two-and-a-half miles of ice in Antactica, said Christner, and most of these bodies of water have likely been covered by ice for at least 15 million years. The environmental conditions in the deep cold biosphere are unlike anything on the Earths surface and this represents one of the most extreme habitats for life on the planet.

A timeframe of up to one million years is required for microbes in the atmosphere to be transported through the ice sheet and enter an Antarctic subglacial lake. Even though cells are preserved in the ice, the question of how the DNA of these organisms remains unscathed over such long periods of apparent metabolic inactivity still remains.

According to Christner, there are two possible explanations of how these microbes could survive frozen for millenia. Firstly, the microbes may be dormant in the ice and possess very effective repair mechanisms that are initiated when the cells are introduced to a growth situation, he said. Given enough time, dormant cells without active DNA repair mechanisms would eventually incur a lethal level of radiation-induced damage from natural background sources in the ice.

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Contact: Brent Christner
xner@lsu.edu
225-578-1734
Louisiana State University
Source:Eurekalert

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