Washington: Researchers have found extremely small habitats on the Earth itself that increase the potential for life existng on other planets while offering a way to clean up oil spills.
Looking at samples from the world`s largest natural asphalt lake on the Caribbean island of Trinidad, they found active microbes in droplets as small as a microliter - about 1/50th of a drop of water.
"We saw a huge diversity of bacteria and archaea. That is why we speak of an `ecosystem` because we have so much diversity in the water droplets," said Dirk Schulze-Makuch, a professor in Washington State University`s school of the environment.
The researchers also found that the microbes were actively degrading oil in the asphalt, suggesting a similar phenomenon could be used to clean up oil spills.
Schulze-Makuch and his colleagues in 2011 found that the 100-acre Pitch Lake was teeming with microbial life which is also thought to increase the likelihood of life on Jupiter`s moon Titan.
"We discovered that there are additional habitats where we have not looked at where life can occur and thrive," Schulze-Makuch added.
Analysing the droplets` isotopic signatures and salt content, researchers determined that they were not coming from rain or groundwater, but ancient sea water or a brine deep underground.
The study appeared in the journal Science.