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Earth Space Science

Microbial Life Found In Trinidadian Hydrocarbon Lake 141

Posted by timothy
from the blame-la-brea dept.
KentuckyFC writes "Pitch Lake is a poisonous, foul-smelling hell hole on the Caribbean island of Trinidad. It is filled with hot asphalt and bubbling with noxious hydrocarbon gases and carbon dioxide. Various scientists have suggested that it is the closest thing on Earth to the kind of hydrocarbon lakes they can see on Saturn's moon Titan. Now a group of researchers has discovered that the lake is teeming with microbial life which is thriving in the oxygen-free environment with very little water, eating hydrocarbons and respiring with metals. Gene sequence analysis indicates that these bugs are single-celled organisms such as archea and bacteria. The researchers say the discovery has exciting implications for the possibility of life on Titan. There is a growing sense that Titan has all the ingredients for life: thermodynamic disequilibrium, abundant carbon-containing molecules, and a fluid environment. There is also evidence that liquid water may not be as important for life as everybody has assumed, since some microorganisms can make their own water by chewing on various hydrocarbons. That may make Titan an even better place to look for life than previously thought."
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Microbial Life Found In Trinidadian Hydrocarbon Lake

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  • by assemblerex (1275164) * on Friday April 16, 2010 @02:30AM (#31868454)
    More like a poisonous, foul smelling sea of organisms with some asphalt sprinkled on top.
    This has a life density comparable to seawater.
  • by martas (1439879) on Friday April 16, 2010 @02:41AM (#31868492)
    though based on the description it seems these things are pretty tiny... even for single-celled organisms. i wonder how their average cell mass compares to some of the more usual critters we know and love.
  • Family resemblance? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by haus (129916) on Friday April 16, 2010 @02:49AM (#31868520) Homepage Journal

    To the best of my knowledge all life on earth (at least all life that has been investigated at the DNA/RNA level) seems to have considerable similarities, which implies a relationship, perhaps a common origin point.

    I wonder. Will this life, which on the surface seems to be fairly different from most of what we know/understand as life will also have such similarities with life as we know it?

    If it does, it seems to show a remarkable level of flexibility, beyond what many may have imagined. If not, that may even be more exciting as it may provide support for the idea that the creation of life may not be an exceedingly rare event.

  • by bmecoli (963615) on Friday April 16, 2010 @04:38AM (#31868986)
    or perhaps the primordial soup was more closely related to the newly discovered organisms and most of them evolved to the water loving organisms we all know and love today.
  • by w0mprat (1317953) on Friday April 16, 2010 @05:13AM (#31869174)
    This is a quote from a tourist some time before the article:

    "Unlike a sterile and lifeless parking lot, you soon get a sense here that this lake is somehow alive. Roy said that a forty foot by forty foot hole completely fills itself in within 3 days."

    "The lake is constantly pulling things into itself, almost like a slow motion black hole. It's supposed to have "feelers" stretching outward for several miles, additional veins of pitch which stretch out from the main lake."

    "this photo of him peeling back the hardened skin of the lake."

    "The lake seemed to me more than anything to be like a large creature with no face, only arms and guts in which it slowly swallowed everything around it."

    "If it swallows some things, then it also spits others out"

    "Here is some leaf litter from part of the forest floor which the lake swallowed, chewed around for a few years and then spat out as indigestible. These leaves were in perfect condition, but as dry as it's possible to imagine."

    So it seems to be a living entity, demonstrably fussy, finding it a hard time getting a decent meal and likely depressed.

    http://www.richard-seaman.com/Travel/TrinidadAndTobago/Trinidad/PitchLake/ [richard-seaman.com]
  • Meteor hiking (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DrYak (748999) on Friday April 16, 2010 @07:05AM (#31869710) Homepage

    It still should be possible for life to emerge in a more "emergence-compatible" place like Earth (or some even suggest some comets, under specific circumstances), and then be carried to other planets by meteorites impacts, etc.

    Imagine a meteorite hitting Earth and ejecting a small amount of tar-growing Titan-compatible bacteria : with an enormous amount of luck, a few surviving spores could end up landing mostly intact on a Titan-like planet.

  • by Mindcontrolled (1388007) on Friday April 16, 2010 @07:14AM (#31869754)
    Sounds uncomfortably close to the living ocean on Lem's Solaris. Did he report strange visions of his dead wife or something like that?
  • by ZeroExistenZ (721849) on Friday April 16, 2010 @07:38AM (#31869882)

    it has everything to do with water's unquie properties.

    ... as currently assumed by man. Why can't there exist something with simular properties?

    There IS a projection though, regularly they find life in a place they did not anticipate. Sulfarlake caves without any sunlight or water? Yep, there's an abundance of life there too.

    All the reasoning from on our little sphere and feable concepts mostly very limited to personal understanding and ability to absorb and conceptualize.

    The thing which strikes me the most though it the common beginning, the "spark" to light it all up... For all I know or have been told or have read or have been taught, space around us is non-organic. Just a brude collection of basic elements in such a disposition they don't really interact all too much and it's sortof a boring thing, unless you have these massive forces working on eachother.

    They've explored planets [wikipedia.org] in our solarsystem, yet it's crudely sterile. Yet, on earth, there's this explosion of life which recurses to both ends (very tiny up to organized configurations building a greater organism) and with each interaction, we shed off some of this life (sweat, skin, hair, we drag around organic matter on our clothes, shoes, leave greasy spots with everything we touch [eg fingerprints], virusses, bacteria, spit, food, ... ).

    Yet, when we shoot ourselves up in the sky a bit, sterile to such an extend we could infect it with our organic amusementparks we lug around discharging more organic life, jumping, falling and flying off of us just by literally being there, standing around.

    To me, humanity or life isn't just a freak occurence, but maybe we're so poorly equipped and are standing like a mole who crawls up in the upper world and figure "wow, this fast empty vacuum isn't giving me any vibrations I can interprete, this must be the emptyness of space where all life stops to exist.", while if he would have eyes to see and brain to conceptualize, he'll think "fuck, this is awesome! WHAT IS ALL THIS STUFF!"

  • by Peter Trepan (572016) on Friday April 16, 2010 @09:27AM (#31870856)

    Is it silly? If variable self-replicating patterns can be generated by plasma, you'd have the prerequisites for evolution even in the center of the sun.

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