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Blood Tide
April 18, 2009 9:15 AM   Subscribe

Blood Falls - The iron rich red liquid gushing from a buried Antarctica lake shows how life may have existed on a snowball Earth, or on Europa.
posted by Artw (52 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Also: Herzog!
posted by Artw at 9:16 AM on April 18, 2009


Is this something I would have to believe in evolution to understand?
posted by Joe Beese at 9:25 AM on April 18, 2009


Is this something I would have to believe in evolution to understand?

Joe, God put that lake their specifically to test your faith. Isn't he mysterious??
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:29 AM on April 18, 2009 [5 favorites]


This is really, really cool though I wish more people expected it. Finding bacteria in salt water should really not be a big deal. We know about halophiles, we've found bacteria living in solid rock. These guys find all kinds of places to live.
posted by Science! at 9:32 AM on April 18, 2009


Can a microbe go crazy?

I don’t mean that a microbe will suddenly think he’s Napoelon, but do microbes ever just get fed up with their colonies and leave?
posted by Dumsnill at 9:33 AM on April 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


We have always been at war with Europa.
posted by Balisong at 9:45 AM on April 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Well, they can form spores and attempt to send their genetic material to another location, just like plant seeds or even pollen, some even form extremely basic pseudo-multi-cellular structures. In short, bacteria do amazing shit we often couldn't imagine, and when we find it we should be both awed and simply reassured. Every little trick they use to survive gives us a hint at a trick our line used to survive.
posted by Science! at 9:47 AM on April 18, 2009


You win this round, Science!
posted by Dumsnill at 9:51 AM on April 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


Blood Falls? Blood Falls?!

Just once, I'd like to hear some news out of Antarctica that didn't immediately bring to mind At the Mountains of Madness.

This is going to end badly for everyone.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 9:53 AM on April 18, 2009 [12 favorites]


Antarctica and Greenland are the future of mineral claims.

Greenland is undisputedly Denmark's. But Antarctica is up for grabs, and there will be wars fought for its control unless we get smart and start using our words for negotiation instead of our weapons for killing.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:57 AM on April 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Just to add if we don't get smart and talk things out, there are other little things almost waiting for us to mess this world up. Live will survive. Humans probably will not.
posted by Science! at 10:06 AM on April 18, 2009


Blood...Ocean
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:06 AM on April 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


Can a microbe go crazy?

I don’t mean that a microbe will suddenly think he’s Napoelon
I am a microbe. And I am Napoleon.

AND I AM NOT CRAZY!
posted by Flunkie at 10:19 AM on April 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Dear Mother Nature,

HOLY SHIT!

Love,
GuyZero
posted by GuyZero at 10:19 AM on April 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Flunkie stops. The rest of the group moves on, toward the ocean. Flunkie looks around. Starts walking in the wrong direction.

GERMANISH VOICEOVER:
"Flunkie is headed for certain death."
posted by Dumsnill at 10:23 AM on April 18, 2009 [6 favorites]


Microbes don't walk, silly.

Wait a minute, maybe I'm not Napoleon!
posted by Flunkie at 10:24 AM on April 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


I was talking about this with my significant other last night. My plan is to use this as an argument against the global warming deniers out there: "No global warming?! Dude, the glaciers are BLEEDING now!"
posted by jamstigator at 10:25 AM on April 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


jamstigator: "I was talking about this with my significant other last night. My plan is to use this as an argument against the global warming deniers out there: "No global warming?! Dude, the glaciers are BLEEDING now!""

That's more than a reasonable warning. We know bacteria can survive trapped in ice, and we are regularly shocked by just how long. "Keep the unknowns frozen in solid of ice." That's a slogan I can support.
posted by Science! at 10:35 AM on April 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


Whoa whoa whoa waitaminute.

These microbes have been living in a closed system with no energy coming in from outside — no sunlight, no geothermal vents, no dead whales, no nothing — for 1.5 million years?

Screw evolution. This shit is here to test our faith in the laws of thermodynamics.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:51 AM on April 18, 2009


Ssshh! The Discovery Institute might hear you
posted by Dumsnill at 10:55 AM on April 18, 2009


These microbes have been living in a closed system with no energy coming in from outside — no sunlight, no geothermal vents, no dead whales, no nothing.

No. Not nothing at all. They evolved to get energy from the sources around them, that happens to be things we may not have considered as energy sources in the past.

Also, did Discover just dramatically change the text and layout of this entry or is that just me?
posted by Science! at 10:56 AM on April 18, 2009


Clearly the glacier is just menstruating.
posted by tehloki at 11:15 AM on April 18, 2009


nebulawindphone: From reading the linked articles it appears that the closed system contained enough organic matter for the bacteria to very slowly eat it, using iron from the surrounding rocks (via a bunch of sulphates) instead of oxygen.

So it's a closed system that hasn't run down yet.
posted by pharm at 11:17 AM on April 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Microbes don't walk: cilia.

FTFY.
posted by hippybear at 11:26 AM on April 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


This reminds me of the Berkeley Pit, which also contains unique microbes.

Strangely, this may not be all bad. According to Wikipedia:

New fungal and bacterial species have been found to have adapted to the harsh conditions inside the pit. Intense competition for the limited resources caused these species to evolve the production of highly toxic compounds to improve survivability; natural products such as Berkeleydione, berkeleytrione [3] and Berkeley acid [4] have been isolated from these organisms which show selective activity against cancer cell lines.
posted by Tube at 11:32 AM on April 18, 2009


Parasite Unseen: That's one of my favorite H. P. Lovecraft stories, the only one that comes to mind (except maybe The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath) that makes some of the horrible monsters from beyond time and space, ultimately, sympathetic.
posted by JHarris at 11:47 AM on April 18, 2009


This is going to end badly for everyone.
posted by Parasite Unseen


So not only are the mutant bacteria capable of eating sulfur, iron, and carbon, they also appear to be capable of picking terrifyingly appropriate Metafilter usernames and posting threats. I guess a couple of million years under the ice must be more than enough time to develop a horrible immortal sentience before gushing out of the earth in rivers of blood.

If I favorite your comments, will you promise to eat me last?
posted by roystgnr at 11:48 AM on April 18, 2009 [6 favorites]


These microbes have been living in a closed system with no energy coming in from outside… This shit is here to test our faith in the laws of thermodynamics.

Life's drive toward organization is stronger than not-life's drive toward chaos.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:51 PM on April 18, 2009


Life found a way.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 1:03 PM on April 18, 2009


The seas will run red with the blood of the earth!
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:05 PM on April 18, 2009


This is why you don't let Jack Torrance explore Antarctica.
posted by hifiparasol at 1:35 PM on April 18, 2009


It's the bacteria's world. I'm just glad they let me live in it.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 1:48 PM on April 18, 2009


"In short, bacteria do amazing shit we often couldn't imagine, and when we find it we should be both awed and simply reassured. Every little trick they use to survive gives us a hint at a trick our line used to survive."

Totally. Those bacteria and viruses are incredibly tenacious creatures. It really gives one the feeling that, if life evolved on some other planet like Mars, that life might still be there. It could just be buried in some really hard to reach place.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:50 PM on April 18, 2009


So not only are the mutant bacteria capable of eating sulfur, iron, and carbon, they also appear to be capable of picking terrifyingly appropriate Metafilter usernames and posting threats.

And, getting $5 for the signup. Maybe that's what fucked up the banking system.
posted by Mcable at 2:08 PM on April 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Life's drive toward organization is stronger than not-life's drive toward chaos.
Not in the long term.
posted by Flunkie at 4:35 PM on April 18, 2009


There's a history of four billion years of increasingly complex life on this planet, about one-third the age of the universe. That seems like a long term to me.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:57 PM on April 18, 2009


Interesting TED talk by Bonnie Bassler on bacterial communication.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:57 PM on April 18, 2009


Well, it's not.
posted by Flunkie at 5:39 PM on April 18, 2009


Every time I read about some life form found in the Antarctic, I think of The Thing.
posted by bwg at 5:42 PM on April 18, 2009


about one-third the age of the universe. That seems like a long term to me.

Keynes: "In the long term, we're all dead." So, Flunkie's right.
posted by msalt at 6:40 PM on April 18, 2009


These microbes have been living in a closed system with no energy coming in from outside — no sunlight, no geothermal vents, no dead whales, no nothing — for 1.5 million years?

I was wondering the same thing, and from the Ars Technica article, they imply that the bacteria live on a process of binding sulfur to iron, and are thus dependent on a slow flow of both. This is very low-energy, and the scientists think that the time-to-replication must be on the order of 300 days, rather than the 20 minutes for well-fed bacteria.

They're hanging on down there, but 'hardscrabble existence' barely begins to describe it.
posted by Malor at 6:44 PM on April 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Considering the vast number of microbes thriving in the harsh environment that is my body, this underground lake sounds like a bacteria vacation resort.
posted by orme at 7:22 PM on April 18, 2009


I for one bow down before our new bacteriological overlords.
posted by silkyd at 7:27 PM on April 18, 2009


Keynes: "In the long term, we're all dead." So, Flunkie's right.

That only works if you consider your individual life as all life. But it isn't all life, it's merely a blip on a continuous timeline of life. The timeline shows life becoming more organized as it progresses.

Indeed, the universe on the whole is becoming more organized: the smear of matter has coalesced into stars and planets and proteins, and those coalesced into viral and bacterial life, and bacteria began forming complex colonies: the first time matter organized for the greater social good. And so on through the first cells, and multiple cells, and then cells specialization, and next thing you know we're swinging through the trees.

From one angle — that of looking at inanimate matter — perhaps the universe becomes more disordered. From another angle — animate matter — it has overall become more organized. Maybe the fate of the universe hangs in the balance. :-)
posted by five fresh fish at 11:33 PM on April 18, 2009


>> "In the long term, we're all dead." So, Flunkie's right.
>That only works if you consider your individual life as all life.


That's only true if you exclude bacteria and other life forms from "we". I hang with dudes.
posted by msalt at 12:00 AM on April 19, 2009


When did I ever mention "we"? I said that life drives toward increasing organization. It does: over the span of something of the order of 14 billion years, life has gone from simple virii and bacteria to complex organisms that are now trying to design new life. That your body will die and rot to chaos is irrelevent to that.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:55 AM on April 19, 2009


Keynes said "in the long run WE are all dead". You replied "only if you consider your individual life as all life". It's not a royal we.
posted by msalt at 1:24 AM on April 19, 2009


Still not following you.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:36 AM on April 19, 2009


I said that life drives toward increasing organization. It does: over the span of something of the order of 14 billion years, life has gone from simple virii and bacteria to complex organisms that are now trying to design new life.

I dunno. I think life drives to increasing to the minimum complexity needed to live, given a plentiful source of free energy (such as the sun), and provided it's given the chance to adopt and evolve. If not given that chance it dies, and pretty easily. And that chance and free energy, cosmically speaking, are absent in many more places than they are present.

In other words, life generally drives to end.

"I don't know Martha, that party clown you hired seems to have made the children all depressed. I wonder what he told them?"
posted by JHarris at 1:57 PM on April 19, 2009


If we don't nuke ourselves first, I imagine we're going to expand to other worlds. Once that process begins, what's to stop us from become common throughout the universe (given enough time)?

Other than, say, the eventual occurrence of proton decay or the like. But that's 10100 years away, so perhaps we'll have mastered the energy-matter duality and can make our own protons. Or we'll have evolved to become intelligent blue.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:21 PM on April 19, 2009


Or made our own new universe and escaped down a giant rabbit hole. ;-)

"I dunno. I think life drives to increasing to the minimum complexity needed to live, given a plentiful source of free energy (such as the sun), and provided it's given the chance to adopt and evolve. If not given that chance it dies, and pretty easily. And that chance and free energy, cosmically speaking, are absent in many more places than they are present.

In other words, life generally drives to end
."

But when you consider life as a totality, it really does get more and more complex with time, like five fresh fish said. Most creatures only adapt to a point , but then there's us. Humans keep reducing the local entropy at an ever increasing rate, in a way that other animals don't. Trap bacteria in a salty lake and they learn to adapt, reaching a local equilibrium with their surroundings. Trap humans in a similar situation, and assuming we didn't die right away one of two possible outcomes would happen: the people would exhaust the resources of their watery prison and eventually die through too much growth, or they'd find a way to break out and expand into new territories. We just don't do equilibrium.
posted by Kevin Street at 10:09 PM on April 19, 2009


Clearly the glacier is just menstruating.

I don't trust anything that bleeds for 1.5 million years and doesn't die.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:01 AM on April 21, 2009


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