Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Arcane Evolutionary Mystique

"It really shows how tenacious life is. The possibilities are just beyond our prediction."
Professor Reed Scherer, micropaleontology, Northern Illinois University

"[When the research scientists saw the first fish they] started screaming and yelling and clapping. [By the time they saw fish repeatedly] we got to the point of, 'Oh, there's another fish', instead of, 'Oh my God! There's a fish'!"
Professor Ross Powell

You'd think these scientists had never seen a fish before. What could be more commonplace than fish, for heaven's sake, in the ocean? It's where anyone would expect to see them, after all. Fish, and any number of other aquatic creatures, from the size of walruses to the minuscule proportions of bacteria thriving in salt water. We know the world's oceans are thriving with various types of aquatic life. New species being identified all the time. And complaints about catches of the most popular types of table-fish diminishing.

And some countries (all right; Japan, detested by Greenpeace) which traditionally hunt for whales gaining an extremely bad reputation for continuing to hunt them even as the strain upon their numbers from over-hunting are placing them in the diminishing-species category. And animal activists going out of their way to rev up their propaganda networks toward boycotting of the annual seal slaughter off Canada's East Coast; Norway not so much.

Life survives in Antarctic A leopard seal rests on a piece of floating ice near the Chilean station Bernardo O'Higgins, Antarctica on Jan. 22, 2015. (AP / Natacha Pisarenko)

So, why the surprise over seeing a fish ... in Antarctica's South Shetland Island archipelago ... oh, that's why. The deep, dark underworld of the frozen South Pole. Really deep. Really dark. Places that haven't seen sunlight for actually aeons, as in millions of years, that long ago. Yet there they are, both microscopic creature and translucent fish of eye-ready dimensions.

On the other hand, who might anticipate that worms could be found within frozen ice? Alive, that is. In great numbers. Worms which by nature have their own natural anti-freeze, that keeps them thriving in ice. They're seen in great numbers in Alaska and parts of Washington State and British Columbia. Living in glaciers. Really.
Ice Worm on Easton Glacier (Marieve Desjardins)

"You don't have to be a rocket scientist to look around and see how extreme this environment is", commented biochemist Jenny Blamey, surrounded by ice-blanketed black volcanic rock on Deception Island, Antarctic. "This is really like a desert, where you have extreme low temperatures", Ms. Blamey, research director at the Biosciences Foundation Chile, studying the genetic material of micro-organisms, explained.

Researchers who had trekked hundreds of kilometres from established structures or from a research post to reach a National Science Foundation mobile base camp at the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf, placed a remote-controlled submarine over a half kilometre deep under the ice to search for what could be seen under one of Antarctica's melting ice sheets.

It happens to represent an area on Earth of total darkness, one thousand kilometres from the closest ocean, nine metres of water under ice where the water tests at -2Centigrade, but because of the salt permeating it, remains unfrozen. When the cameras were turned on there was a thin, almost translucent fish darting about while amphipods, orange-shelled, drifted by.
Life endures in frigid Antarctic temperatures
An amphipod lies on ice shortly after it was brought to the surface, in a sediment lab set up in Antarctica on Jan. 19, 2015. The animal was fished out of an area of total darkness far from the ocean, where it was living a space of 30 feet of liquid water under the ice. (Reed Scherer / National Science Foundation and Northern Illinois University)

An attempt to net a fish or two failed, although some amphipods cooperated. The researchers also travelled to remote Lake Vostok, a freshwater lake buried under 3.7 km of ice, which hasn't been exposed to open air for an estimated fifteen million years. When scientists took water samples and tested for life traces they discovered genetic sequences for 3,507 recognizable species, about ten thousand of which were unknown to science.
Water bear organism
This image released by Bob Goldstein and Vicki Madden taken with an electron microscope, shows a tardigrade, micro-animal also known as a water bear, at the UNC in Chapel Hill, N.C. In Jan. 2015, scientists found the DNA of a tardigrade in Antarctica's Lake Vostok, located in an area considered the most remote place on Earth. (UNC Chapel Hill)

"It seems like most of [them] were alive recently", said Scott Rogers, a professor of microbiology at Kentucky's Bowling Green State University, who was part of the study team. "You start to wonder if that couldn't happen on an icy moon or exo-planet", Lisa Kaltenegger, astronomer and director of the Institute for Pale Blue Dots at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, suggested.

Labels: , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home

()() Follow @rheytah Tweet