Navigation Links
Scientists melt million-year-old ice in search of ancient microbes
Date:12/7/2007

Researchers from the University of Delaware and the University of California at Riverside have thawed ice estimated to be at least a million years old from above Lake Vostok, an ancient lake that lies hidden more than two miles beneath the frozen surface of Antarctica.

The scientists will now examine the eons-old water for microorganisms, and then through novel genomic techniques, try to figure out how these tiny, living time capsules survived the ages in total darkness, in freezing cold and without food and energy from the sun.

The research, which is sponsored by the National Science Foundation and is part of the International Polar Year, is designed to provide insight into how organisms adapted to live in extreme environments.

It's some of the coolest stuff I have ever worked on, said Craig Cary, professor of marine biosciences at UD. We are going to gain access to the genetics of organisms isolated for possibly as long as 15 million years.

The collaborative research team includes Cary and doctoral student Julie Smith from UD's College of Marine and Earth Studies; project leader Brian Lanoil, assistant professor of environmental sciences at the University of California at Riverside, and doctoral student James Gosses; and Philip Hugenholtz and postdoctoral fellows Victor Kunin and Brian Rabkin at the U.S. Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute.

Last week in Lanoil's laboratory in California, segments of a tube-like ice core were thawed under meticulous, clean lab conditions to prevent accidental contamination, a process that required nearly a year of preparation.

It was very exciting to see the Vostok ice, knowing how old it is and how much it took to get that ice to the lab, Smith said. The ice core itself was incredibly clear and glasslike, reflecting the light like a prism.

The segments of ice were cut from an 11,866-foot ice core drilled in 1998 through a joint effort involving Russia, France and the United States. The core was taken from approximately two miles below the surface of Antarctica and 656 feet (200 meters) above the surface of Lake Vostok and has since been stored at -35 degrees C at the National Ice Core Laboratory in Denver.

This ice was once water in the lake that refroze onto the bottom of the ice sheet, Cary explained. We have no direct samples of the lake itself, only this indirect sampling of the refrozen ice above it because drilling into the lake without taking extensive precautions could lead to the lake's contamination. The borehole made to collect the ice is filled with a mixture of jet fuel, kerosene, and CFCs to keep it from closing, Cary noted. Since the lake has not had direct contact with the surface world for at least 15 million years, this would be a contamination of one of the most pristine environments on Earth, he said.

Cary said the decontamination procedure was the most complicated and complete ever attempted, requiring the use of an isolation chamber for the actual melting, concentration of the meltwater through a special filtering system, use of bleaching solutions for the destruction of any contaminating bacteria or DNA from the outside of the core, and the wearing of sterile jump suits for all of the laboratory personnel, among other measures.

Although other scientific projects have identified the microorganisms living in the Vostok water, they have not revealed what these little one-celled organisms do or how they have become adapted to an environment that is eternally dark, cold and so isolated that food and energy sources are likely rare and hard to come by.

This research is important because it will give us insight into how microbes can survive in a very energy-limited system, Smith said. She intends to pursue a career in academia after she completes her doctorate at UD's College of Marine and Earth Studies.

Most of our planet is permanently cold and dark, so it makes sense that we should study how life exists under these conditions. In addition, enzymes produced by these microorganisms may be useful in industrial applications down the road, Smith noted.

The Vostok water contains only between 10-100 microbes per milliliter compared to approximately 1 million microbes per milliliter for most lakes, Cary said.

Novel whole genome amplification techniques will be applied, which provide insight into the genetic diversity of a community of organisms when only small numbers of organisms are available.

A veteran of research expeditions around the globe, Cary is an expert on extremophiles--organisms that thrive in the harshest environments on the planet, ranging from the dry, frigid desert of Antarctica, to geyser-like hydrothermal vents spewing toxic chemicals from the ocean floor.

In the case of Lake Vostok, scientists speculate that it stays in a liquid state underneath miles of ice due to one of the Earth's natural furnaces--hydrothermal vents. Superheated water erupts from these cracks in the seafloor which form where the plates that form the Earth's crust pull apart.

We hope that by being so isolated for millions of years, these microorganisms from Vostok will be able to tell us about their life and conditions through the ages, Cary said.


'/>"/>

Contact: Tracey Bryant
tbryant@udel.edu
302-831-8185
University of Delaware  
Source:Eurekalert

Related biology news :

1. UK scientists working to help cut ID theft
2. Scientists show that mitochondrial DNA variants are linked to risk factors for type 2 diabetes
3. Comet probes reveal evidence of origin of life, scientists claim
4. Scientists link fragile X tremor/ataxia syndrome to binding protein in RNA
5. Male elephants get photo IDs from scientists
6. Scientists retrace evolution with first atomic structure of an ancient protein
7. Muscle mass: Scientists identify novel mode of transcriptional regulation during myogenesis
8. Carnegie Mellon scientists develop nanogels that enable controlled delivery of carbohydrate drugs
9. Clemson scientists shed light on molecules in living cells
10. Scientists tackle mystery mountain illness
11. T. rex quicker than Becks, say scientists
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
Related Image:
Scientists melt million-year-old ice in search of ancient microbes
(Date:6/2/2016)... 2, 2016 The Department of Transport ... the 44 million US Dollar project, for the , ... including Personalization, Enrolment, and IT Infrastructure , to ... production and implementation of Identity Management Solutions. Numerous renowned international ... Decatur was selected for the most compliant ...
(Date:5/20/2016)... , May 20, 2016  VoiceIt is excited ... with VoicePass. By working together, VoiceIt ...  Because VoiceIt and VoicePass take slightly different approaches ... increases both security and usability. ... about this new partnership. "This marketing ...
(Date:4/28/2016)... BANGALORE, India , April 28, 2016 ... subsidiary of Infosys (NYSE: INFY ), and Samsung ... global partnership that will provide end customers with a ... and payment services.      (Logo: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20130122/589162 ... for financial services, but it also plays a fundamental part ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:6/27/2016)... ... June 27, 2016 , ... Rolf K. Hoffmann, former ... of the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School effective June ... UNC Kenan-Flagler, with a focus on the school’s international efforts, leading classes and ...
(Date:6/24/2016)... , June 24, 2016 Epic Sciences ... detects cancers susceptible to PARP inhibitors by targeting ... cells (CTCs). The new test has already been ... in multiple cancer types. Over 230 ... damage response pathways, including PARP, ATM, ATR, DNA-PK ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... Wausau, WI (PRWEB) , ... June 23, 2016 ... ... probiotic supplements, is pleased to announce the launch of their brand, UP4™ Probiotics, ... supplements for over 35 years, is proud to add Target to its list ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... , June 23, 2016 Houston ... with the Cy-Fair Sports Association to serve as ... the agreement, Houston Methodist Willowbrook will provide sponsorship ... and connectivity with association coaches, volunteers, athletes and ... with the Cy-Fair Sports Association and to bring ...
Breaking Biology Technology: