MOSCOW, March 11 (RIA Novosti) – The Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute in St. Petersburg officially confirmed on Monday that probes from Lake Vostok in the Antarctic contained an “unclassified” species of bacteria.
The bacterium did not match DNA sequences of any known contaminates or, indeed, any of the phyla, or main subdivisions, of the biological domain of bacteria, the institute said on its website.
The discovery was first reported last Thursday by a member of the research team who said tests were still ongoing at the time.
The findings are inconclusive because of scarce genetic material in the water sample, obtained when researchers first drilled through the 3.5-kilometer-thick ice sheet above Lake Vostok in 2012, the report said. But tests will continue when fresh samples, obtained earlier this year, reach St. Petersburg by ship in May.
The existence of unique new life in Lake Vostok, whose environment resembles subglacial oceans of Jupiter’s and Saturn’s moons, was hypothesized ever since drilling began for the lake in 1989. But the earliest findings, presented last fall and now tentatively disproven, reported no new bacteria.
The new discovery has groundbreaking potential, but more tests are needed to confirm the unique lifeforms really come from the lake and are not a new type of contaminants, Maya Petrova of the Institute of Molecular Genetics at the Russian Academy of Sciences told RIA Novosti.
“There’s a huge possibility it’s something new, but no one’s going to bet their lives on it yet,” Petrova said.