polar ice
NASA

Despite our efforts since decades to find alien life forms inside and out of the Earth, we haven't received much success. Now a new discovery has opened up new avenues towards achieving the goal. Recently researchers have unearthed the very first proof of the existence of living bacteria in polar ice.

According to a new study, published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, a team of researchers from the University of York has declared that they have observed living bacteria for the very first time in the samples of polar snow and ice. This breakthrough would have serious implications on how we perceive and analyze other planets and their potential life forms. Until now, the polar environment was presumed to be entirely sterile.

Polar ice has long been the source of various information and facts about the history of Earth, as it contains CO2 pockets, which are trapped there for more than thousands of years. These CO2 pockets are compared with the latest CO2 levels in the atmosphere to determine the difference. Until now, scientists had considered that the samples from these pockets to be unaltered, as it was believed that polar ice doesn't contain any life form that could change its CO2 levels. However, the new findings confirm that it's not entirely true.

"As microbial activity and its influence on its local environment have never been taken into account when looking at ice-core gas samples, it could provide a moderate source of error in climate history interpretations. Respiration by bacteria may have slightly increased levels of CO2 in pockets of air trapped within polar ice caps, meaning that before human activity, CO2 levels may have been even lower than previously thought," stated the lead author of the study, Dr. Kelly Redeker.

"In addition, the fact that we have observed metabolically active bacteria in the most pristine ice and snow is a sign of life proliferating in environments where you wouldn't expect it to exist. This suggests we may be able to broaden our horizons when it comes to thinking about which planets are capable of sustaining life," Redeker added.

Redeker and his team first got the evidence of living bacteria in the polar ice after they sterilized several ice samples with the help of UV lamps and compared those samples with the ones, which were unchanged. As a result, the scientists uncovered an astonishing amount of methyl iodide in the unchanged samples. Marine bacteria are known to produce methyl iodide gas.

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In this study, for the first time ever, the researchers observed bacteria to alter the original environment of polar ice. These findings open up a new course of investigation for the astrobiologists and it will help them find alien microbial life forms in various icy environments in the universe, such as on Enceladus, the icy moon of Saturn.