The melting of the polar glaciers is not only wreaking havoc on sea levels and ocean currents — it's also releasing "ancient microbes" and other life forms that have been trapped in the ice for hundreds of thousands of years, says Scientific American's Cheryl Katz. "Once thought to be too harsh and inhospitable to support any living thing, the ice sheets are now known to be a gigantic reservoir of microbial life," Katz says. "Altogether, the biomass of microbial cells in and beneath the ice sheet may amount to more than 1,000 times that of all the humans on Earth." Montana State University researcher John Priscu tells Katz that burial in the ice is an evolutionary strategy for many microorganisms, a way of "recycling genomes." Priscu has found living bacteria in some of the ice cores harvested from Antarctica and has grown the bacteria in his lab. University of Wisconsin, Madison, evolutionary biologist Jonathan Klassen says the ice is good for preserving genes that were thought to have disappeared from the planet long ago. "Things that went extinct have the possibility of coming back," Klassen tells Katz.
The Ötzi of Bacteria
Apr 19, 2012