New Species Of Organism Discovered
Scientists have isolated a new species of organism that thrives without oxygen and grows in salty, alkaline conditions.
This new species, discovered by scientists at the National Space Science and Technology Center in Huntsville, Alabama, could offer new insights into what kinds of life might survive on Mars.
The discovery, published in the May 2003 issue of the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology, identifies a species named Spirochaeta americana.
NSSTC scientists Richard Hoover and Elena Pikuta isolated this new organism from oxygen-deprived mud sediments from Northern California’s Mono Lake – a salty, alkaline lake in an enclosed volcanic basin.
“The environment these bacteria inhabit would be distinctly inhospitable to many other life forms, including humans,” said Pikuta.
Since the first species of the genus Spirochaeta was discovered in 1835, only 13 other species of free living spirochetes have been found worldwide, inhabiting environments ranging from sediments to oil fields. The new microorganism, a long, thin bacteria, is an extremophile – an organism that can survive in some of the harshest conditions on Earth.
“These extremely thin and graceful bacteria move with an elegant motion,” Pikuta said. “Their cell walls are very delicate, and it is difficult to keep them alive for long periods in the laboratory.”
Extremophiles are the most ancient life forms on Earth and can thrive in acid pools, super-heated volcanic vents, glaciers, nuclear reactor wastes, at high pressure and absolute darkness in deep-sea abysses and in rocks far beneath the Earth’s crust.
“Planets like Mars have conditions that would challenge the existence of highly organized multicellular organisms such as we find on Earth, but that does not mean these harsh places can not sustain microbial life forms,” said Hoover. “By studying microorganisms found in Earth’s extreme places, like Mono Lake, we can better understand how life might exist on Mars.”
Provided by theEnvironmental News Service.