life found in liquid asphalt lake


Life found in liquid asphalt lake
23/04/2010 3:54:19 PM
CBC News
Researchers have found life in a toxic lake of liquid asphalt, a discovery that challenges notions of what conditions are needed for life.

The scarcity of water and oxygen in the lake make it the closest thing on Earth to the hydrocarbon seas of Titan, one of Saturn's moons.
The environment could also resemble conditions that might have occurred on a primordial Earth, when life first began.

Biologists found evidence of microbial life in Pitch Lake, a naturally occurring pond of warm pitch, reeking of methane and hydrogen sulphide, on the Caribbean island of Trinidad, near La Brea. The liquid asphalt also includes traces of toxic heavy metals.
The lake has been mined for asphalt for centuries, but now, scientists say there are bacteria living in the bubbling, sticky tar.
Dirk Schulze-Makuch of Washington State University and colleagues took samples of pitch from the lake, froze them and pulverized them. They then analyzed the powder for DNA.
They found evidence of tens of millions of living cells in every gram of pitch from the lake. The scientists published their research in the physics blog
Biologists were able to determine what kind of life they'd found by analyzing the DNA chemically.
"We're able to generate sequences that represent a molecular marker, known as the small sub-unit ribosomal RNA gene, that all living things share," said Steven Hallam of the University of British Columbia, in an interview with CBC Radio's Quirks & Quarks.
The researchers found signs of bacteria and archaea, two types of single-celled microorganisms.
Hallam said the living organisms in Pitch Lake aren't like others found on Earth.
"They're using the residual energy of things like hydrogen sulphide ... or methane as a source of electrons," he said. "They're respiring things like nitrate or sulphate. They're making a living in ways that are very unfamiliar to us."
One environment that's similar to the liquid asphalt pond is the recently discovered hydrocarbon seas on Titan, one of Saturn's moons, so the discovery is opening debate about what conditions are required for life on other worlds.
The pitch lake could also tell us something about how life began on this planet.
"One of the reasons to study environments like pitch lake is to look backward in time," said Hallam. "It's not just to think about life on other planets, but it's to think about what life might have been like on our planet at the early stages, when life was coming into being.
"One could imagine that the conditions in this environment might resemble some primordial state on the planet."
With files from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Life found in liquid asphalt lake | Sync

Last edited by spaminator; May 3rd, 2010 at 01:18 PM..
Interesting. It may be difficult to find life (as we know it) on other planets until we are willing to see beyond the accepted norm. Life based on other environmental factors other than what are found on Earth has been speculated by science fiction writers for decades, but we are now discovering that our definition of life is quite limited. This discovery will begin the process of expanding that definition.
Pretty amazing how life can be found in the most toxic of places. Finding life in an asphalt pond is just as interesting as when scientists found life on fumaroles spewing heavy metals at the bottom of the ocean.

hydrothermal vent: Definition from

"Perhaps the most striking feature of sea-floor hydrothermal vents is their dense biologic communities. Vent faunas tend to be dominated by mollusks , annelids, and crustaceans, whereas faunas on nonvent hard-bottom habitats consist predominantly of cnidarians, sponges , and echinoderms. Biologically, vents are among the most productive ecosystems on Earth. Sulfide from hydrothermal fluids provides the energy to drive these productive systems. Whereas most animal life depends on food of photosynthetic origin ( inorganic carbon converted to useful sugars by plants using energy from the Sun), the animals at hydrothermal vents obtain most or all of their food by a process of chemosynthesis . Chemosynthesis is accomplished by specialized bacteria residing in hydrothermal fluids, in mats on the sea floor, or in symbiotic relationships with other organisms. The bacteria convert inorganic carbon to sugars by mediating the oxidation of hydrogen sulfide , thereby exploiting the energy stored in chemical bonds. A few vent animals are also known to use methane gas as a source of energy and carbon. The physical and chemical conditions at hydrothermal vents would be lethal to most marine animals, but vent species have adapted to the conditions there. See also Deep-sea fauna .

In a remarkable discovery, it was shown that chemosynthetic microbes known as Archaea are flushed from cavities deep within the Earth's crust by hydrothermal and volcanic activity. These microbes are hyperthermophilic (hot-water-loving) and thrive at temperatures exceeding 90C (194F). It is now suspected that an entire community of such microbes inhabits the rocks deep within the water-saturated portions of the Earth's crust. See also Marine geology ."
Yup, bugs can be pretty adaptable and hardy. We've found that certain bacteria eat crude oil and we discovered that a few years back, so it isn't much of a stretch to include asphalt.
if it isnt bigger than the tip of a needle im not impressed
We visited Yellowstone a while ago. There life exists at high temperatures, in nearly boiling water. Not only that, but they have a regular ecosystem there. Thus towards the edge of the pool where it is relatively cooler (maybe say, 50 or 60 degrees C), one form of life exists. Nearer the centre of the pool where it may be hotter by perhaps 10 or 20 degrees C, another life form exists. Yet third form may exist at intermediate temperatures. A fourth one may exist throughout the pool and so on. There is a regular ecosystem at high temperatures.

Indeed, we came across only one lake where life was totally absent (the color of the water was deep blue and absolutely clear). We were told that water in it was nearing the boiling point. But anything cooler than that, there is an abundance of life.

So life is very adaptable indeed.
Bar Sinister
Has anyone told Syncrude about this?