Water droplets show way for alien life

Last Updated: Friday, August 8, 2014 - 19:09

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.


First Published: Friday, August 8, 2014 - 19:09

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