Animal’s Daily News

Yum BearIt seems life finds a way.  Excerpt:

Everywhere scientists have looked on Earth, they have found signs of life. They’ve looked in the deepest oceans and the driest deserts, and in every case, life—in some form or another—was flourishing. But Kelly Wrighton and Mike Wilkins aren’t satisfied that the search is over, so they’re looking for life in a place more extreme than ever before.

Which is why the married couple, both assistant professors of microbiology at Ohio State University, are at a new fracking well being drilled just outside Morgantown, West Virginia. Before Northeast Natural Energy can send down fluid to fracture the Marcellus Shales, buried more than 1.5 miles below the surface for 400 million years, Wrighton, Wilkins, and a team of scientists will be collecting rock samples hauled up from the deep.

Unlike previous samples, which were collected after the well had been fracked first and thus contaminated, these samples will be pristine. It will give the microbiologists their best shot to find signs of microbial life.

Wrighton and Wilkins have spent their burgeoning careers studying the microbes dozens, even thousands of feet beneath the surface of the Earth. Such deep subsurface microbes have to contend with high temperatures, in some areas well above the boiling point of water. They also have to manage extremely high pressures and high concentrations of salt. Perhaps the most difficult task is finding energy. Cut off from solar energy, subsurface bacteria had to rely on chemical reactions or sinks of oil and natural gas to make their living.

The implications of extremophile life are fascinating.  If life can exist beneath thousands of feet of rock, around boiling-hot ocean vents, and in water pockets sealed in salt crystals for millions of years, then life can exist almost anywhere.

Like, say, under the ice in Europa, or in the organics geysers of Titan – or maybe in the clouds of Venus, or the whirling ice fogs of Jupiter or, yes, in the underground brines of Mars.

Thoughtful-BearMind you, there is still no evidence for life in any of these places.  But absence of evidence is not evidence of absence; there may be some kind of extremophile life hanging on in one or more of these places.  If there is, I hope they find it in my lifetime; I’m very anxious to see what effect that will have on people’s understanding of our own little wet blue ball in space.