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Newly Discovered Iron-breathing Species Have Lived In Cold Isolation For Millions Of Years

ScienceDaily (Apr. 17, 2009) -- A reservoir of briny liquid buried deep beneath an Antarctic glacier supports hardy microbes that have lived in isolation for millions of years, researchers report April 17 in the journal Science.

The discovery of life in a place where cold, darkness, and lack of oxygen would previously have led scientists to believe nothing could survive comes from a team led by researchers at Harvard University and Dartmouth College. Their work was funded by the National Science Foundation, NASA, and Harvard's Microbial Sciences Initiative.

Despite their profound isolation, the microbes are remarkably similar to species found in modern marine environments, suggesting that the organisms now under the glacier are the remnants of a larger population that once occupied an open fjord or sea.


"This briny pond is a unique sort of time capsule from a period in Earth's history," says lead author Jill Mikucki, now a research associate in the Department of Earth Sciences at Dartmouth and visiting fellow at Dartmouth's Dickey Center for International Understanding and its Institute of Arctic Studies. "I don't know of any other environment quite like this on Earth."

Chemical analysis of effluent from the inaccessible subglacial pool suggests that its inhabitants have eked out a living by breathing iron leached from bedrock with the help of a sulfur catalyst. Lacking any light to support photosynthesis, the microbes have presumably survived by feeding on the organic matter trapped with them when the massive Taylor Glacier sealed off their habitat an estimated 1.5 to 2 million years ago

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman
by dvx (dvx.clt št gmail dotcom) on Sat Apr 18th, 2009 at 11:43:54 AM EST
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I wish they had a chemist/biochemist on their staff.  "... breathing iron ..."?  What the hell is that suppose to mean?

They tried to assimilate me. They failed.
by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Sat Apr 18th, 2009 at 09:20:47 PM EST
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It means the journalist is an ignoramus.

Bacteria don't breath cuz they ain't got no lungs.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sat Apr 18th, 2009 at 11:34:03 PM EST
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Maybe the lede should have been "Bacteria with Lungs Found; Have Serious Case of Iron Breathe"

Never underestimate their intelligence, always underestimate their knowledge.

Frank Delaney ~ Ireland

by siegestate (siegestate or beyondwarispeace.com) on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 05:28:31 AM EST
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These bugs obviously use iron (Fe) in some oxidation state in some form of Redox reaction in order to get energy.  But "breathing iron" ... they can't do better than that?

They tried to assimilate me. They failed.
by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 10:03:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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