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New microbe capability uncovered in antarctic conditions

New microbe capability uncovered in antarctic conditions

Image: Adams Flat. Image courtesy: Phil O’Brien.

Researchers—led by ARC Future Fellow, Associate Professor Belinda Ferrari from The University of New South Wales—have advanced environmental science by discovering that microbes in Antarctica have a previously unknown ability to scavenge hydrogen, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide from the air to stay alive in the extreme conditions.

Researchers have previously wondered how the microbes can survive in the Antarctic climate, where there is little water, the soils are very low in organic carbon and there is limited capacity to produce energy via photosynthesis during the winter darkness.

Associate Professor Ferrari and her Australasian research collaborators—including ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Award recipient, Dr Christopher Greening from Monash University—found that while Antarctica is perhaps one of the most extreme environments on the planet, its cold, dark and dry desert regions are home to a remarkably rich diversity of microbial communities that have evolved mechanisms to produce both the energy and carbon required to survive from the consumption of atmospheric gases.

  This discovery uncovers a new understanding about the existence of life in nutrient-deficient, climatically and physically extreme environments, and opens up the possibility of exploring if this alternative energy source is more widespread in Antarctica and elsewhere. It also has implications for the search for life on other planets, suggesting extra-terrestrial microbes could also rely on trace atmospheric gases for survival.


Image: Adams Flat. Image courtesy: Phil O’Brien.

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