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In subglacial lake, surprising life goes on: Team identifies species in most inhospitable realm

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Posted July 9, 2013

Schematic cross-section of Lake Vostok (above), drawn to scale (based on a radar study of Lake Vostok along the glacial flow line to the ice core drill site [2]) and metagenomic/metatranscriptomic summary (below). Credit: PLoS ONE 8(7): e67221. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0067221

Schematic cross-section of Lake Vostok (above), drawn to scale (based on a radar study of Lake Vostok along the glacial flow line to the ice core drill site [2]) and metagenomic/metatranscriptomic summary (below). Credit: PLoS ONE 8(7): e67221. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0067221

Lake Vostok, buried under a glacier in Antarctica, is so dark, deep and cold that scientists had considered it a possible model for other planets, a place where nothing could live.

However, work by Dr. Scott Rogers, a Bowling Green State University professor of biological sciences, and his colleagues has revealed a surprising variety of life forms living and reproducing in this most extreme of environments. A paper published June 26 in PLOS ONE details the thousands of species they identified through DNA and RNA sequencing.

“The bounds on what is habitable and what is not are changing,” Rogers said.

This is the fourth article the group has published about its Lake Vostok investigations. The team included Dr. Paul Morris, biology, who with Scott and doctoral student Yury Shtarkman conducted most of the genetic analyses; former doctoral students Zeynep Koçer, now with the Department of Infectious Diseases, Division of Virology, at St. Jude’s Research Hospital in Memphis, performed most of the laboratory work; Ram Veerapaneni, now at BGSU Firelands, Tom D’Elia, now at Indian River State College in Florida, and undergraduate student Robyn Edgar, computer science.

Their work was supported by several grants, including two from the National Science Foundation, one from U.S. Department of Agriculture and one from the BGSU Faculty Research Committee. Together, the amount dedicated to the project was more than $250,000.

When thinking about Lake Vostok, you have to think big. The fourth-deepest lake on Earth, it is also the largest of the 400-some subglacial lakes known in Antarctica. The ice that has covered it for the past 15 million years is now more than two miles deep, creating tremendous pressure in the lake. Few nutrients are available. The lake lies far below sea level in a depression that formed 60 million years ago when the continental plates shifted and cracked. The weather there is so harsh and unpredictable that scientists visiting must have special gear and take survival training.

Read more at: Phys.org

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