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Atmospheric Gases Enough to Support Life

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Scientists have discovered that microbes in Antarctica can scavenge hydrogen, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide from the air to stay alive in the extreme conditions. The revelation has implications for the search for life on other planets, as it suggests that extraterrestrial microbes could also rely on trace atmospheric gases for survival.

“Antarctica is one of the most extreme environments on Earth. Yet the cold, dark and dry desert regions are home to a surprisingly rich diversity of microbial communities,” says the study’s senior author A/Prof Belinda Ferrari of the UNSW School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences.

“The big question has been how the microbes can survive when there is little water, the soils are very low in organic carbon and there is very little capacity to produce energy from the sun via photosynthesis during the winter darkness. We found that the Antarctic microbes have evolved mechanisms to live on air instead, and they can get most of the energy and carbon they need by scavenging trace atmospheric gases, including hydrogen and carbon monoxide,” Ferrari says.

The Australasian-based study, by researchers at UNSW, Monash University, The University of Queensland, GNS Science in New Zealand and the Australian Antarctic Division, has been published in Nature.

Soil samples were collected from two coastal ice-free sites...

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