Is Antarctica’s Lake Vostok a prehistoric aquarium populated by exotic fishes and crustaceans? A study now hints at the possibility. But the idea that the pitch-dark lake might host complex animals — as some media reports have suggested — is vastly premature, leading researchers warn.
Nestled beneath a glacier 4,000 metres thick, Lake Vostok is the largest of hundreds of lakes under Antarctica’s ice sheet. A team led by Scott Rogers of Bowling Green State University in Ohio has now looked at ice cores from above Lake Vostok that were extracted in 1998. At the time, no one had reached the actual lake, a feat that was achieved only last year. But the drilling had gone deep enough to reach a layer of ice at the bottom of the sheet that formed as lake water froze. In those cores, the team found genetic traces of various microbes — and, possibly, of more complex animals. They also found a type of bacterium previously seen only in the guts of fish, they report in PLoS ONE1.