Trawling Hidden Waters

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Science  22 Aug 2008:
Vol. 321, Issue 5892, pp. 1021
DOI: 10.1126/science.321.5892.1021c

Lake Vostok is a vast lake currently buried under a 4-km-thick glacier in Antarctica; it has long been an object of curiosity to microbiologists. What could possibly live at −2°C, under 400 atm, in complete darkness, and with few available nutrients? D'Elia et al. have anticipated the delayed breakthrough by the Russian drilling team in their microbiological examinations of the frozen lake surface that has accreted on the underside of the glacier. They were surprised to discover that more than 60 taxa of cold-tolerant bacteria grew in their long-term cultures, all related to known environmental species. Microscopy revealed algal cells and evidence of fungi. Because a variety of samples were taken, distinct ecological zones could also be distinguished. Despite these apparent riches, there were still far fewer organisms in the lake ice than in other environments on Earth. When the Russian team do bore through the entire ice sheet, they are very unlikely to find a microbiological paradise, unless it is one they have brought with them. — CA

Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 74, 4962 (2008).

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