Skip to content

From Antarctica: It’s Alive!

February 7, 2015

Mat_Fryxell

You will recall from our Antarctic Upside Down Lakes that we came across some amazing alien life forms emerging out of five meters of ice, from another fifteen meters or more in the lake below. Our expedition was led by Rachael Morgan-Kiss, at Miami U-Ohio, sponsored by NSF–her research blog is here.
Cyano_Mat2These life forms are cyanobacterial mats–dessicated cyanobacteria (photosynthetic microbes) entwined with algae, protists, even possibly tiny invertebrates like water bears. At a touch, they fall apart and blow off in the wind, to find a melting hole in the lake, or in another lake downwind. Well, some of this one didn’t blow away–it ended up stuffed into the purple capped tube, and shipped at -20C to our home continent.

Tube_green

Here’s what one of the samples looked like, arriving back at Kenyon. Still a bit of green.

Is anything alive in there? To find out, we put samples into BG-11 cyanobacterial growth medium, a mixture of plain salts such as carbonate, nitrate, and phosphate–essential atoms, little more, since cyanobacteria build just about everything from scratch. Professor Chris Bickford kindly loaned his lighted incubator, which went down to 10C (50F). That’s not especially cold, but it’s the coldest our incubator will go. And actually, this temperature is reached within the depth of some of the Dry Valley lakes, as well as in sun-heated pools of meltwater during the Antarctic summer.

The samples from Lake Fryxell we put into 100-ml graduated cylinders, to give them both a surface for green algae and a depth for growth of the orange-brown ones.

Fryxell_Jan18

After two weeks–It’s alive! Green stuff bubbling oxygen. Remember–that’s where all the oxygen you breathe comes from.

Fryxell_Feb02

We also sampled some dark brown rubbery stuff that grew in the meltwater by Canada Glacier (the Antarctic glacier between Lakes Fryxell and Hoare).
Glacier_Jan18

After two weeks, you can see the glacier-melt brown stuff’s grown too, expanded and bubbling, while yellow stuff multiplies throughout the flask. We think the yellow stuff includes heterotrophs (organic food eaters) that suck up the oxygen, which is toxic to the photosynthesizers.

Glacier_Feb02We’ve looked under the scope–incredible range of shapes and sizes, even swimming things in there. Richard Dennis in our lab will provide micrographs soon.

Meanwhile, what to call all this stuff? Today, it’s all in the DNA. So we took some of the original samples to smash them up for their DNA.

20150203_094440

Here are samples of Fryxell mat (colored) and glacier mat (dark) ready for the PowerBiofilm bead beater: Tubes of sharp glass beads to shake in the vortexer.

So what’s in the DNA? Stay tuned, and let’s find out.

Index: Antarctica

5 Comments
  1. txupi permalink
    February 8, 2015 8:59 am

    Fascinating!

  2. Kimberly Orsborn permalink
    February 8, 2015 9:18 pm

    Truly fascinating! I so enjoy following your work and can’t wait to hear about the DNA.

  3. Merriman Hunter permalink
    February 14, 2015 4:32 pm

    Awesome fun. Thank you for posting all this! : )

  4. Robert van der Heide permalink
    February 15, 2015 10:23 am

    Wonder how this mix of stuff would do in Europa-like conditions.

Trackbacks

  1. The Leopard Seal | Ultraphyte

Comments are closed.

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: