Cryptic remains of tiny animals are turned into an Antarctic lake


Much to their surprise, Antarctica scientists have uncovered what appears to be its remnants of tiny animals in Mud dredged from a lake covered by a thick mantle of ice for thousands of years.

Researchers on this expedition – known as the Antarctic Lung Scientific Access, or Salsa – are the first to pass Lake Mercer, a body of water about 600 kilometers from the South Pole. After drilling about a kilometer through the ice in late December, researchers lowered the instrumentation to bring water and sediment to the surface.

Looking at the samples under a microscope, the team found "some things that looked like squeezed spiders and crotch-type things with legs … some other things that looked like they could be worms," ‚Äč‚ÄčExpedition member David Harwood says, a micro-otologist At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The researchers also spotted what appeared to be the vestige of a favorably durable microscopic criterion called a water bear (Sn Online: 7/14/17). Examined the DNA of the remnants will help researchers identify them more precisely.

This find, first reported by Nature On January 18, "is really intriguing," says Slavek Tulakzik, a glaciologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz which is not part of the Salsa team. So far, scientists have not considered such Antarctic lakes as Mercer to be suitable for organisms larger than microbes.

When researchers in 2013 sampled Lake Whillans, the only other ice-led lake in Antarctica that scientists drilled in, "we didn't reveal anything more complicated than a microbe," says Sala team member Brent Krystner, a University of Florida microbiologist Gainesville (Sn: 9/20/14, p. 10). "We had a similar outlook here."

Part of two lakes

Recently, uncovered animal remnants at Lake Mercer were as a separate surprise to researchers because samples from an adjacent lake, Lake Whales, contain nothing more than microbes.

It is still unclear if the new unearthed animal carcasses were left behind by creatures that actually lived in Lake Mercer, Tulakzik says. Ice or water may have been the fragments of the ocean or lakes further upstream in the Transatlantic Mountains. Carbon Dating These samples can help pinpoint their age, which can provide a clue as to how and when the miniscule animal carcasses arrived at Lake Mercer, he says.

If one of the animals was unfortunately mercer-dwellers, it is possible that some of them might still be kicking around there, Harwood says. "It is interesting to think that life can be in really extreme environments" such as an Antarctic lake that is separated from both the ocean and the atmosphere for thousands of years, says Harwood. "If this life is still there, it's important for our thoughts about what we can find out in space."

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