Results are preliminary, but Russian scientists say they have recovered an “unclassified” form of life from water samples brought up from ancient Lake Vostok, more than 2 miles beneath Antarctica’s ice sheet.
No, it’s not akin to “The Thing” in John Carpenter’s awesome 1982 movie (depicted in the screenshot above from a clip of the movie). Genetic analysis reveals that it is a species of bacteria that’s never been seen before.
The Russian site, RIA Novosti, reported the news yesterday. Quoted in the story, Sergei Bulat, a researcher at the Laboratory of Eukaryote Genetics at the St. Petersburg Nuclear Physics Institute, had this to say:
After excluding all known contaminants…we discovered bacterial DNA that does not match any known species listed in global databanks. We call it unidentified and ‘unclassified’ life.”
In his blog at Scientific American, Caleb Scharf, director of Columbia University’s multidisciplinary Astrobiology Center, struck a cautious note about the discovery:
Obviously we’ll need to wait to see the details. Phrases like ‘bacterial DNA’ are pretty vague – are they looking at things like the ubiquitous 16s rRNA, or some other sequence selections typically used for metagenomic analysis? Do they have cells under a microscope?
It looks to be exciting news though. Decades of hard work to reach one of the most alien places on Earth may actually be revealing lifeforms we have not knowingly encountered before. It doesn’t really get better than this!
I just hope they have that stuff contained well. (Oh, and by the way, if you want to watch the clip from The Thing, go here.)