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Slime in Antarctic Lake May Hold the Secret of Life

by Holly Chavez Blog

Antarctic Peninsula

Regions: Antarctica

Destinations: Ross Sea

Highlights: McMurdo Dry Valleys

Slime in Antarctic Lake May Hold the Secret of Life

Most people would probably purposefully steer clear of green slime, but for scientists, it can hold many exciting possibilities. An Antarctic lake has recently presented a prime example, and researchers believe that it could actually provide enough data for them to be able to develop a much firmer understanding of what the world was like 2.4 billion years ago. In other words, a sample of Antarctic slime could end up changing science and history books worldwide.

Where Was the Slime Found?

Lake Fryxell, which is located in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, is one of the estimated 200 lakes in Antarctica that are permanently frozen. Scientists now have a solid reason to believe that the conditions that exist deep within these lakes are very similar to those from billions of years ago. It has already been determined that our planet was not always the oxygen rich habitat that it is today, and the thin layer of slime that was found in Lake Fryxell has provided a big clue about the early days of Earth’s oxygenation.

Image of Lake Fryxell provided by Eli Duke, via Flickr

What Makes the Slime Such an Important Discovery?

According to the research team, the slime contains oxygen, even though the deep water that it resides within is oxygen free. This appears to have happened due to a combination of sunlight piercing the water and photosynthetic bacteria. Therefore, we now have a good reason to believe that before the conditions on Earth evolved to the point where oxygen became a major component of our atmosphere, bacteria and sunlight may have provided the spark of oxygen that was necessary for life to exist.

It is currently believed that the first forms of simplistic life appeared on Earth somewhere between 2.7 and 3.5 billion years ago, and this began with single-celled organisms. The process of evolution and the development of a more complicated life structure required increasing amounts of oxygen, and Lake Fryxell has finally offered a very viable answer as to how all of these events were set into motion.

What Did Scientists Already Know?

Researchers were already well-aware that there was once a time when oxygen was not plentiful on Earth, but they did not have a full understanding of what created the Great Oxidation Event or how long this event lasted. It had been theorized that there were small pockets of oxygen being created that eventually helped lead to an abundant worldwide supply.

The green slime found within an Antarctic lake helps verify this theory, and it offers the unique opportunity for scientists to get a firsthand glimpse into the way that each ancient oxygen oasis would have formed and operated. It is too early to say for sure how this will change our understanding of the origins of life, but it is virtually certain that many of life’s earliest secrets are about to be exposed for the first time. 

How Does This Impact Modern Humanity?

Although all of this information is very intriguing, it might be difficult to understand its importance for modern life. In a nutshell, every piece of confirmed data that we are able to gather about the history of our planet can be used to help improve future climate model predictions. Additionally, scientists can use this latest discovery to help them piece together further clues about the origins of life on Earth. It is also worth noting that any method that can be used to create a new source of oxygen, especially when you consider the possibility that the planet’s continual evolution could one day make this knowledge imperative. For now, though, it is definitely exciting to consider all of the historical implications of the green slime’s oxygen-creating abilities while on an Antarctica cruise. After all, the frozen lakes that are located around and underneath Antarctica could have been extremely instrumental in creating life as we know it.

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