Sunday, April 27, 2008

Anceint Bacteria feed on Uranium

Recently, a major discovery was made of self-sustaining communities of Uranium-dependent bacteria living independently of the outer Biosphere shell. It is generally known that in order for life to exist, sunlight is the key for producing the energy needed for reproduction and growth. However, the recent discovery of Uranium-dependent bacteria found in the gold mines of South Africa, Johannesburg has proved that it is indeed possible for communities of life to exist deep within the Earth’s crust.

It was found in this deep, isolated environment that the radiation of the uranium rocks in the underground water supply facilitated the formation of hydrogen gas from water and sulfates from sulfur minerals. The Uranium-dependent bacteria harvest the energy created by these reactions, allowing other microbes to feed on the waste of these bacteria. In this way, the uranium-dependent bacteria perform the same vital role that photosynthetic organisms do on the surface of the Earth, where they are the primary producers responsible for harnessing the energy required for all other life.

DNA analysis of this new species of bacteria also showed that they were related to the hydrothermal vent bacteria, known as Firmicutes, which also feed on sulfate and hydrogen. It is thought that these new Firmicutes were separated from their relatives anywhere between 3 million and 25 million years ago, however it remains a mystery as to how these Firmicutes could have populated these areas deep within the Earths Crust.

Since the discovery of these Firmicute related life forms, there has been renewed interest in the possibility that life may well exist in the groundwater beneath the permafrost on Mars. After all, if bacteria isolated in the deep substrates of Earth can survive, who’s to say that there couldn’t be some other form of super-hardy bacteria living on Mars?

Cited from
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