ANTARCTICA – A bacteria colony has been found sealed under ice for more than 1.5 million years. What can it tell us about alien life?

Water samples were taken from “Blood Falls”, an iron-rich stream of meltwater that occasionally leaks out of the Taylor Glacier. The coloration comes from the iron oxidizing upon hitting air, staining the ice red.


The source of the water is in fact a salty lake trapped beneath 1,300 feet of ice. The water the microbes dwell in averages a temperature of 14 degrees Fahrenheit, but doesn’t freeze because the water is almost four times saltier than the ocean.

The bacteria colony was isolated there after the glacier rolled over the lake and created a cold, dark, oxygen-poor ecosystem. This forced the microbes to adapt, which subsist only on iron and sulfur compounds.

How can they survive without oxygen or photosynthesis? Scientists believe the organisms use sulfur compounds to extract iron in the bedrock below the glacier. Energy is obtained when the sulfur is cycled through different oxidation states by reacting it with iron. The oxidized sulfur is then used to react with carbon compounds, powering the metabolism.

So why is this such a breakthrough? If scientists can fully understand how the bacteria live, it could help bolster the theory of microorganisms existing on icy planets, such as below the Martian ice caps or in the ice-covered ocean of Jupiter’s moon Europa. We may not be alone after all.

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