Ancient Life Could Have Flourished In Antarctica

By Rodney Rafols , Nov 27, 2016 11:15 PM EST

The world then was much different from how we know it now. Areas that were once lush and green are now either barren deserts or else are covered by ice. An expedition in Antarctica is set in finding out if ancient life could have flourished in Antarctica.

Finding out if life could have evolved in Antarctica is important, especially for future missions to places that are inhospitable like Mars. With a number of expedition to Mars involving how to nurture and cultivate life there, the Antarctic expedition hopes to find how early life could have survived in such harsh conditions. The expedition would be the first time that DNA sequencing would be done in the region.

The team of researchers would be coming from Georgetown University and would be comprised of five people. The team would be made up of a planetary scientist, two biologists and two DNA sequencing experts. They will have their research on McMurdo Dry Valleys. The place is free of snow and ice, unlike most of Antarctica.

Sarah Stewart Johnson, Ph.D. is principal investigator and an assistant professor of Planetary Science at Georgetown University's Department of Biology and Science, Technology and International Affairs Program. She said that little is known how life can persist in such extreme conditions. Johnson also runs the Johnson Biosignatures Lab. The lab has tools to search for fingerprints of life. Some of those tools would be used to search and sequence DNA.

For DNA sequencing three equipment would be used, according to Science Daily. Two of those are quite large and would be staying at the Albert P. Cray Science and Engineering Center at McMurdo Station, while the other would be a pocket-sized nanopore sequencer. The team hopes to find microbes that could have survived and adapted to the environment in the Antarctic.

The research would be important for finding life on Mars, as conditions in the Antarctic would almost be the same on Mars. This is the view of David Goerlitz, MS who is a member of the team and an operations director at Georgetown University's Genomics and Epigenomics Shared Resource. He said that if microbes could survive in such conditions, it could be possible for small life to also survive on Mars.

The team will be in the McMurdo Station for a month. For each day that they go to the McMurdo Dry Valleys, they will spend two days at the station to analyze what they've found, as the Georgetown University Medical Center's site reports. Goerlitz said that they will do it in real time as much as possible.

Ancient life could have flourished in Antarctica. Its study might help future explorations on Mars to use the same method that the team will use. In another report, there could possibly be water hidden beneath Mars' surface.

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