Lake Vostok

Lake Vostok is the largest of more than 140 subglacial lakes found under the surface of Antarctica. The overlying ice provides a continuous paleo-climatic record of 400,000 years, and the lake water itself has been isolated for 15 million years. The lake is named after the ship of Fabian von Bellingshausen, an Antarctic pioneer. There is presently underway a scientific effort to reach the lake by drill. The lake is under complete darkness and expected to be rich in oxygen, so there is speculation that any organisms inhabiting the lake could have evolved in a manner unique to this environment. These adaptations to an oxygen-rich environment might include high concentrations of protective oxidative enzymes.

Living Hydrogenophilus thermoluteolus microorganisms have been found in Lake Vostok’s deep ice core drillings, an extant surface dwelling species. This suggests the presence of a deep biosphere utilizing a geothermal system of the bedrock encircling the subglacial lake. There is optimism that microbial life in the lake may be possible despite high pressure, constant cold, low nutrient input, potentially high oxygen concentration and an absence of sunlight. Due to the lake’s similarity to the Jupiter moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus, any confirmation of life living in Lake Vostok would strengthen the prospect for the possible presence of life on Europa or Enceladus.

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