Scientists have managed to find signs of microbial life in one of the harshest places on Earth, furthering hopes that life might also be found in some unknown space environment. Deep in the Canadian Arctic, scientists have managed to find signs of life in the hypoxic, hypersaline waters of Lost Hammer Spring. In one of the coldest places on Earth, springs rise from 1,970 feet of permafrost. The discovery has given many hope that microbial life, if it exists, may also be found in similar environments on the icy moons Europa and Enceladus.
“It took us several years to process sediments before we could successfully detect an active microbial community. The saltiness of the environment interferes with microbial extraction and sequencing, so when we were able to find evidence of an active microbial community, it was A very satisfying experience,” said lead researcher microbiologist Elisse Magnuson of McGill University in Canada.
The microbes discovered by the team are completely new, with some very specific adaptations that allow them to survive and grow in extreme environments like the Lost Hammer Spring. Most importantly, these microbes are chemotrophic. These types of organisms, whose names literally mean “stone eaters”, generate energy through the oxidation of inorganic molecules. It can survive with or without oxygen.
“The microbes we discovered and described at the Springs of the Lost Hammer were surprising because, unlike other microbes, they didn’t rely on organic matter or oxygen to survive,” explained microbiologist Lyle White.
These microbes can survive by eating and breathing simple inorganic compounds such as methane, sulfides, sulfates, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, all of which are found on Mars.
“They also fix carbon dioxide and nitrogen in the atmosphere, all of which make them highly adapted to survive and thrive in extreme environments on Earth and beyond,” said White, a professor of polar microbiology at McGill University in Canada.
Scientists believe that the ice on Mars’ polar caps is formed by high salt water, and beneath the icy surfaces of Jupiter’s sixth moon Europa and Saturn’s sixth moon Enceladus are high salt water oceans. These environments may serve as hosts for alien-like microbes adapted to these conditions.