August 12, 2010

Bacteria Hold Clues Of Life On Other Planets

Bacteria discovered in an oxygen-starved area of Argentina could demonstrate how life could exist on Mars or other planets, according to a Wednesday article by Reuters reporter Kylie Stott.

A team that included National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET) microbiologist Maria Eugenia Farias discovered the unique strands of bacteria--called "polyextremophiles" because they can survive in multiple different types of extreme conditions--in an inhospitable area of the South American country known as Lake Diamante.

In fact, millions of them were discovered in the center of a giant volcanic crater, located some 15,000-plus feet above sea level at the Lake Diamante site, according to the report.

"The bacteria's habitat is similar to primitive earth, before living and breathing organisms began wrapping a protective atmosphere of oxygen around the planet," Stott said. "The conditions--which include high arsenic and alkaline levels--could also shed light on life beyond Earth"¦ If bacteria can survive here, the theory goes, it could also survive somewhere like Mars."

Reportedly, the lake includes 20,000 times the amount of arsenic deemed safe for drinking water, and is filled with so much salt that it never freezes despite the extreme cold.

According to Farias, the DNA of the polyextremophiles mutates in order to survive the area's high UV radiation and low oxygen levels typically found at such high altitudes, meaning that it could be of use in pharmaceutical products.

"What we have here is a series of extreme conditions all in one place. And this is what makes this place unique in the world," the microbiologist, who is currently seeking funding in order to produce a metagenome of the bacteria colony, told Stott on Wednesday.

"This is of great scientific interest as a window to look to our past and also for a science called astrobiology, the study of life on other planets," she added.


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