Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Research team discovers life in Rock Glacier

14.12.2004


A University of Colorado at Boulder research team has discovered evidence of microbial activity in a rock glacier high above tree line in the Rocky Mountains, a barren environment previously thought to be devoid of life.


An image of a rock glacier, the large hump in front of the mountain in photo taken at the Niwot Ridge Long-Term Ecological Research site west of Boulder, Colo. Photo courtesy Meredith Knauf, University of Colorado at Boulder



Found in an intermittent stream draining from the glacier, the evidence includes traces of dissolved organic material and high levels of nitrates, said Mark Williams, a fellow at CU-Boulder’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research. The high nitrate levels are believed to be a result of microbes metabolizing nitrogen within the glacier, said CU-Boulder graduate student Meredith Knauf.

Rock glaciers are large masses of rock debris interspersed with ice in the high mountains of temperate areas. Moving at speeds of just inches or a few feet a year, they require an extremely cold environment, large amounts of rock debris and enough of a slope to allow them to slide.


"This is a very surprising finding, something we did not expect," said Williams. "The upshot is that we have shown that rock glaciers are not biological deserts as had been previously thought by scientists. This is one more example that microbes can live in the most extreme of environments."

Williams said the microbial "signature" discovered by the team in the rock glacier in the Green Lakes Valley watershed roughly 30 miles west of Boulder, Colo., is similar to that found recently in semi-frozen lakes in the Dry Valleys of Antarctica. The unexpected discovery of microbes in that hostile Antarctica region has enthused scientists hunting for life in inhospitable environments, he said.

Both the amount of dissolved organic matter and nitrate levels from microbial activity in the rock glacier rose dramatically from the late spring to the early fall in 2003, said Knauf of CU-Boulder’s geography department. "This increase indicates that the biological signal is coming from meltwater inside the rock glacier, rather than from terrestrial microbial activity in the tundra around it," she said.

Knauf gave a presentation on the discovery at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union held Dec. 13 to Dec. 17 in San Francisco.

The Green Lakes Valley watershed is part of the Niwot Ridge Long-Term Ecological Research site that is supported by the National Science Foundation. Niwot Ridge is the only one of NSF’s 26 LTER sites worldwide that is located in a sub-alpine and alpine environment.

The dissolved organic carbon molecules from the rock glacier, which are large and complex, are very similar in structure to molecules found by the researchers in Antarctica, said Knauf. "The microbial activity we are seeing appears to be much more like what researchers have found in the Dry Valleys of Antarctica than anything found in North American temperate areas," she said.

Microbes, which are microscopic, single-celled organisms, have been found residing in boiling water in deep-sea ocean vents, clinging to ice in subterranean polar lakes and living in rocks two miles underground. Such microbes, known popularly as "extremophiles," also have been found living inside of nuclear reactors and even in the brickwork of 4,800-year-old Peruvian pyramids.

Since Earth’s most extreme environments are thought by scientists to resemble environments found on distant planets, such examples of extremophiles on Earth have caught the interest of astrobiologists, said Williams. "Parts of Antarctica are seen as an analog to environments on Mars by researchers, and we see this rock glacier environment as a new analogue to Antarctica," he said.

Microbes, which have been shown to metabolize elements like iron, nitrogen and sulfur, appear to require water in order to live, grow and reproduce. Previously at the Niwot Ridge study area, microbes living under the tundra snow pack have been shown to be active in sub-zero conditions, breaking down plant material and metabolizing nitrogen in the dead of winter, Williams said.

Following the discovery in the Green Lakes Valley, the CU-Boulder research team discovered evidence of microbial life in rock glaciers in southern Colorado and in Wyoming, said Knauf.

Other CU-Boulder researchers involved in the study include INSTAAR Fellow Nel Caine, graduate student Rose Cory and former graduate student Fengjing Liu.

Mark Williams | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.colorado.edu

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Color effects from transparent 3D-printed nanostructures

New design tool automatically creates nanostructure 3D-print templates for user-given colors
Scientists present work at prestigious SIGGRAPH conference

Most of the objects we see are colored by pigments, but using pigments has disadvantages: such colors can fade, industrial pigments are often toxic, and...

Im Focus: Unraveling the nature of 'whistlers' from space in the lab

A new study sheds light on how ultralow frequency radio waves and plasmas interact

Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles present new research on a curious cosmic phenomenon known as "whistlers" -- very low frequency packets...

Im Focus: New interactive machine learning tool makes car designs more aerodynamic

Scientists develop first tool to use machine learning methods to compute flow around interactively designable 3D objects. Tool will be presented at this year’s prestigious SIGGRAPH conference.

When engineers or designers want to test the aerodynamic properties of the newly designed shape of a car, airplane, or other object, they would normally model...

Im Focus: Robots as 'pump attendants': TU Graz develops robot-controlled rapid charging system for e-vehicles

Researchers from TU Graz and their industry partners have unveiled a world first: the prototype of a robot-controlled, high-speed combined charging system (CCS) for electric vehicles that enables series charging of cars in various parking positions.

Global demand for electric vehicles is forecast to rise sharply: by 2025, the number of new vehicle registrations is expected to reach 25 million per year....

Im Focus: The “TRiC” to folding actin

Proteins must be folded correctly to fulfill their molecular functions in cells. Molecular assistants called chaperones help proteins exploit their inbuilt folding potential and reach the correct three-dimensional structure. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry (MPIB) have demonstrated that actin, the most abundant protein in higher developed cells, does not have the inbuilt potential to fold and instead requires special assistance to fold into its active state. The chaperone TRiC uses a previously undescribed mechanism to perform actin folding. The study was recently published in the journal Cell.

Actin is the most abundant protein in highly developed cells and has diverse functions in processes like cell stabilization, cell division and muscle...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

LaserForum 2018 deals with 3D production of components

17.08.2018 | Event News

Within reach of the Universe

08.08.2018 | Event News

A journey through the history of microscopy – new exhibition opens at the MDC

27.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Smallest transistor worldwide switches current with a single atom in solid electrolyte

17.08.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Robots as Tools and Partners in Rehabilitation

17.08.2018 | Information Technology

Climate Impact Research in Hannover: Small Plants against Large Waves

17.08.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>