Newly found Antarctic ‘air-eating’ bacteria could change the way we search for aliens
Scientists have made yet another bizarre discovery in Antarctica as they have discovered a new type of bacterium that can survive solely off the chemicals in the air. The discovery is important because it could completely revolutionize the way we think about alien organisms living on different planets in the cosmos.
The newly found organisms are able to survive on a basic diet of hydrogen, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, which allows them to survive under the most extreme conditions where other sources of energy and food are scarce, or nonexistent.
This discovery raises a number of questions related to the search for alien life in the universe. Is it possible that low-level lifeforms on other distant planets and moons are able to survive on a diet of scarce gasses available in the atmosphere?
This is a new possibility we should consider according to a team of scientists from the University of New South Wales in Australia.
“Antarctica is one of the most extreme habitats on Earth,” says lead researcher Belinda Ferrari. “Yet the cold, dark and dry desert regions are home to a surprisingly rich diversity of microbial communities.”
dubbed WPS-2 and AD3, the new types of bacteria can stay alive in extreme conditions. Image Credit: Shutterstock
“The big question has been how the microbes can stay alive when there is little water, the soils are very low in organic carbon and there is a very little capacity to generate energy from the Sun via photosynthesis during the winter darkness.”
The fact is that there are places which are home to extreme, freezing temperatures, offer very little or no water at all. These places also remain in darkness for months, or are exposed to extremely strong ultraviolet radiation, in addition to the weathering of freeze and thaw cycles. All of these facts make it hard for life—as we know it—to exist.
However, studies have demonstrated that nonetheless, life finds a way to thrive in such extreme environments.
This raised an important question among scientists: How can different organisms stay alive without energy sources, like carbon being turned into sugar via photosynthesis?
To answer this question, scientists took soil samples from two ice-free parts in Antarctica.
Researchers reconstructed the genomes of 23 microbes by studying the soil’s microbial DNA with a shotgun sequencing method. Scientists used small sections of DNA to recreate the whole, and were able to identify two groups of previously unknown bacteria they dubbed WPS-2 and AD3.
WPS-2 and AD3 have no issue whatsoever to stay alive with little sunlight, no geothermal energy, and few nutrients.
It’s a revolutionary find as it is the first air-eating life form we’ve encountered yet.
“This new understanding about how life can still exist in physically extreme and nutrient-starved environments like Antarctica opens up the possibility of atmospheric gases supporting life on other planets,” says Ferrari.
The findings have been published in Nature.
Reference: Living on thin air: microbe mystery solved
Featured image: Shutterstock