Blood Falls: Antarctica

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Blood Falls: Antarctica

A torrent of red ice, buried beneath a glacier.

Science is something that helps us understand the world around us; how it works, why it works and what it does.

We've used answers gleaned from this in the past to create supercapacitors, make paperless paper and even wireless electricity - but this discovery is something very different.

A recent movement of glacial ice in the McMurdo Dry Valleys (in Antarctica) back in 2004 broke open a sealed space within the ice itself, unleashing a dirty red substance that spilled outwards.

The area is notorious for it's harshness - with little free water and almost no extra essentials for life it makes it difficult if not impossible for most life to reside here - but this red substance has proved otherwise.

Arstechnica had a look at the substance, and discovered that not only is it very much alive but also is thriving in this environment, with a very different way of feeding:

Unlike the sulfur-powered communities present at undersea vents, there's little indication of a hydrogen sulfide metabolism present in the ice at Blood Falls. Instead, it appears that energy is obtained when sulfur is cycled through different oxidation states by reacting it with iron, producing the Fe(II) seen in the brine. The oxidized sulfur is then used to react with carbon compounds, powering the metabolism. All of that is pretty low-energy-the authors suggest that the doubling time for a bacterium in this environment would be roughly 300 days-and requires an external source of Fe(III) to power the system. The authors posit that the glacier itself might provide the source by extracting new iron as it scrapes across the underlying rocks.

Essentially, the microbes break down iron into food, taking chemical energy from the metal to feed themselves and grow - something that may explain how life started on our very planet!

It's a fascinating look at these little microbes and how they carve a slice of life out of the worst end of a very short stick, and if we can have this type of ecosystem on Earth then who knows where else in the Universe we can find a similar arrangement?

Head to the story to have a read, and post below if you're as excited at the prospect of iron-munching microbes as we are.

 

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