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Strange Bacteria Sustains Itself Without Sunlight 306

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the deep-dark-places dept.
Hahnsoo writes "A colony of bacteria found 2.8 kilometers below the Earth's surface in a South African gold mine is able to sustain itself without energy from the Sun. While sub-surface colonies of microorganisms utilizing sulfur (mostly near deep sea hydrothermal vents) is not new, this particular colony is unusual. The colony does it by relying on radioactive uranium to split water into hydrogen gas. Thus, instead of solar energy and photosynthesis, this species relies on radioactive materials and sulfur/hydrogen to facilitate its energy needs. There is some speculation about life on other planets in the article as well."
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Strange Bacteria Sustains Itself Without Sunlight

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  • by LiquidCoooled (634315) on Friday October 20, 2006 @05:15AM (#16513985) Homepage Journal
    What is this sunlight you speak of?

    We manage to sustain ourselves using colonies of microorganisms utilising twinkie bars and coke (mostly near mom's fridge).
    We rely on radiation from our CRT monitors and heat from mom's washing machine to act as a catalyst converting the food bars into into methane gas. Thus instead of having a nice basement, its a desolate wasteland where noone would dare to tread.

    There is some speculation about how life evolved inside such places (or should that be devolved).
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 20, 2006 @05:29AM (#16514039)
      There is also some speculation about how these organisms manage to reproduce when they do not engage in any type of mating or sexual reproduction.
      • by rucs_hack (784150) on Friday October 20, 2006 @06:11AM (#16514221)
        I beleive sexual reproduction is acheived through bumping into each other at star trek conventions.
        • by araemo (603185) on Friday October 20, 2006 @08:24AM (#16514791)
          "I beleive sexual reproduction is acheived through bumping into each other at star trek conventions."

          Sadly, more true than many would realize...
        • by CarpetShark (865376) on Friday October 20, 2006 @10:34AM (#16515977)
          I think you mean by dragging outsiders to conventions, whereupon their bodies are possessed by the hive mind, thus increasing our numbers ;)
        • by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Friday October 20, 2006 @10:57AM (#16516267)
          There's a lot more action going on at trek conventions (including some really extreme stuff at the big cons) than most folks realize.

          Biggest problem I see with the guys is that they look like 3's but ignore any female less than a 7.

          Either fix yourselves up a bit or make your standards a bit more realistic.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 20, 2006 @06:13AM (#16514229)
        That's easy. They actually reproduce by "seeding" themselves through intar-web tubes, into what is known as a "bit-torrent."
      • by Hoi Polloi (522990) on Friday October 20, 2006 @10:39AM (#16516039) Journal
        It reproduces via mitosis. Eventually the parent organism becomes so large that it must split into two organisms or else risk splitting it's pants.
  • by cofaboy (718205) on Friday October 20, 2006 @05:17AM (#16513989)
    So now we have completely different lifeforms available does that mean we have to go and kill them?
  • prior art (Score:5, Funny)

    by macadamia_harold (947445) on Friday October 20, 2006 @05:22AM (#16514011) Homepage
    A colony of bacteria found 2.8 kilometers below the Earth's surface in a South African gold mine is able to sustain itself without energy from the Sun.

    Why is this news? Clearly you've never been to a Linux User's Group meeting.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Sique (173459)
      You mean, LUGs might lose the patent on living in basements? Because the article states that those bacteria live there since at least 3 million years :)
  • Please... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by djupedal (584558) on Friday October 20, 2006 @05:25AM (#16514021)
    "... this species relies on radioactive materials and sulfur/hydrogen to facilitate its energy needs"

    How you want me to think that those 'radioactive materials and sulfur/hydrogen' components weren't somehow reliant on sunlight at some point in the past?

    Admit it or not, but the SB have and will continue to rely on sunlight as part of their food chain.
    • Re:Please... (Score:5, Informative)

      by OrangeTide (124937) on Friday October 20, 2006 @05:48AM (#16514137) Homepage Journal
      radioactive materials absolutely do not rely on sunlight. They rely on big huge stars to make big fat elements, then explode spreading them all over the universe where the coalesce into planets like the Earth.

      The hydrogen and sulfur components are likely released as part of volcanic activity. which is not sunlight driven, although it is driven through the energy released due to the effect of solar gravity on the Earth's core.

      I'm not really sure what point you're trying to drive here. Likely the bacteria's ancestors required sunlight to survive, if you are so interested in associating sunlight with everything.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by craagz (965952)
        I know that currently Sun is fusing Hydrogen atoms into Helium Isotopes. After a few years(a lot) these helium will combine into larger elements and so on. You suggested
        big huge stars to make big fat elements, then explode spreading them all over the universe where the coalesce into planets like the Earth.

        Does that mean, that on Earth the "big elements" are actually from big OLD stars from Long Long ago..almost at the time of big Bang??

        • Re:Please... (Score:5, Informative)

          by Tim C (15259) on Friday October 20, 2006 @07:52AM (#16514597)
          Does that mean, that on Earth the "big elements" are actually from big OLD stars from Long Long ago..almost at the time of big Bang??

          Yes. Every element heavier than helium was created primarily either in the core of a star (up to iron), during a nova (almost everything else) or as a decay product of the radioactive decay of a heavier element (which was created during a nova or similar event).

          The big bang created hydrogen and a little helium; we have stars to thank for everything else.
          • by owlstead (636356) on Friday October 20, 2006 @09:31AM (#16515297)
            "The big bang created hydrogen and a little helium; we have stars to thank for everything else."

            As long as they don't expect us to thank each and every one of them personally...
          • Re:Please... (Score:5, Interesting)

            by Verteiron (224042) on Friday October 20, 2006 @09:44AM (#16515447) Homepage
            And to further answer the GP's question, there's been plenty of time since the Big Bang for this process to happen (several times). Large stars burn through their fuel much faster than well-behaved dwarf stars like our sun. I believe that a supergiant star can complete its lifecycle in about 15 million years. That means that if current estimates on the age of the universe are correct, that it could have happened over 900 times by now, assuming a perfect linear succession of supergiant stars. The real estimate is probably much closer to a couple hundred, but there has certainly plenty of time for all the heavy elements in our planet (and the rest of the solar system) to have formed in the hearts of stars since the Big Bang.

            As Carl Sagan said, "We are all made of starstuff.".
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            The Big Bang also created lithium. [harvard.edu] In fact, many question whether stellar fusion can create lithium at all.
      • by Moraelin (679338) on Friday October 20, 2006 @09:26AM (#16515237) Journal
        They rely on big huge stars to make big fat elements, then explode spreading them all over the universe where the coalesce into planets like the Earth.


        Actually, that's not entirely correct. No star we know produces elements heavier than iron and nickel, which aren't very radioactive. In fact, they're the most stable nuclei we know.

        The thing is, anything lower than iron and nickel tends to release energy when fused into something heavier. Anything heavier than that needs to absorb energy to fuse into something even heavier, and conversely releases some energy when split.

        So eventually the reaction stops at iron and nickel. Given intense photon bombardment in the star, most nickel actually disintegrates right back into smaller nuclei, not fuse further into heavier stuff. Iron pretty doesn't do anything whatsoever, and just stays iron.

        The thing there is that as you move upwards, the energy and temperature requirements tend to be insane. For example for the next step up from fusing hydrogen into helium, it takes a red giant and temperatures of about 100 _million_ Kelvin to even fuse helium into carbon before blowing itself up.

        And most stars either (A) stop short of even that and become a red dwarf, or (B) blow themselves up within seconds when they start fusing helium, because that's a very unstable reaction, whose rate increases with temperature, and temperature increases with fusion rate.

        But at any rate, even if you had a star massive enough, you wouldn't get many nuclei past iron, or you wouldn't get them out of the star. By the moment a star got massive and hot enough to start fusing iron into something heavier, it would just rapidly lose heat in that reaction. It just can't explode that way, so at most you'd get a black hole in the end of it all.

        So since you mention stars exploding... well, that's actually where the heavier elements come from. Supernovae don't just spread those heavier metals, they _create_ them. The iron, carbon, helium and whatever else was created will be smashed with tremendous amounts of energy and at insane temperatures, and a lot of it will fuse into heavier stuff. And since the star is already blowing up, they'll get spread all over the place.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by CorSci81 (1007499)

          You're mostly correct, but a few things. Read the book "Stellar Interiors" by Hansen & Kawaler; it's a standard graduate text on the lifecycles of stars. I actually took a few classes on the topic from the Kawaler of that trio.

          And most stars either (A) stop short of even that and become a red dwarf, or (B) blow themselves up within seconds when they start fusing helium, because that's a very unstable reaction, whose rate increases with temperature, and temperature increases with fusion rate.

          For o

  • Well (Score:4, Funny)

    by bhebing (741840) on Friday October 20, 2006 @05:28AM (#16514037)
    It's life Jim, but not as we know it!
  • Forgive my ignorance (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mrjb (547783)
    Is uranium naturally radioactive or is this human produced nuclear waste? For now, I'll assume the former.

    In case it is about 'normal' uranium, would it be viable to use its radioactvity as a power source without the creepy fission reactions? Would it then also be possible to turn human nuclear waste into a useful energy source? Or is the amount of energy released by radioactivity too small to turn into useful work?
    • by coobird (960609) on Friday October 20, 2006 @05:42AM (#16514095) Homepage

      Yes, these are natural uranium ores in South Africa.

      The radioactive half-life of uranium [wikipedia.org] is in the order of 100 millions of years for the two common isotopes of uranium that the radioactivity of itself is not very significant.

      Radioactive materials used for power-production from radioactive decay itself (see radioisotope thermoelectric generator [wikipedia.org]) use radioisotopes with half-lives of tens to hundreds of years.

      • by cluckshot (658931) on Friday October 20, 2006 @08:58AM (#16514989)

        First let me say that I am going to let anyone who want look up whatever they want. I will leave enough key words around to do the job.

        The concept of life doing nuclear reactions is not new. In 1799 Joseph Priestly doing a study on hens discovered that they emitted as egg shells and waste about 2 to 4 grams of Calcium not taken in by their diet. The process at the time was called "Transmutation of Elements." Subsequently it has been found that bean sprouts transmutate several elements including manganese into iron. (The top of the fusion energy set). This has been studied by the US Army and by the French Nuclear researchers. It is real. There are two Nobel prizes in the 1970's related to this.

        Nuclear reactors typically the type of the US Navy get problems with bacterial growth in their main cooling loops that cause blockage and cause the requirement for repairs.

        For those who are doing a bit of thinking.... (I know its really hard sometimes.) The process is now pretty well known and mapped out. The mitochondria of cells can and do Fusion reactions as well as some Fission reactions. In the hens if the making of potassium into calcium was their only reaction, they would heat up like a really big nuclear reactor. Fortunately for us all, the hens also do ENDOTHERMIC (heat absorbing) atomic reactions as well. The upshot of this shows up in a lot of places. It explains the differences in content of geologic sediments from their parent rocks. It explains a lot of other things as well. Life is very much a factor in the atomic mixture we find on a planet. What is more it completely messes up our cosmology. Yes you can get fusion without the nuclear containments of a star. In fact that isn't even needed at all in the whole universe.

        Curiously there has not been found any major geologic structure on earth that doesn't contain life. It probably penetrates to the core. I would suspect from this that the assumptions about life are all wrong. It is probably true that the entire universe is alive at every location to some degree. In terms of the science called Chemistry it also says that what we view atomic fission and fusion reactions as merely a spectrum of the chemical reaction series with Chemistry at the low end, Fission higher and Fusion still higher. There is also no prospect that this is the top of reactions.

        The purpose of this posting is to stimulate people into looking into the realities of our world rather than having them accept what they are spoon fed in school. (Your teacher and your textbooks might just be WRONG!) At the present there are several advancing sciences with working technologies that are pushing back the walls in energy and gravity research. Real breakthroughs have occured and they violate the "Rules" that are accepted. If your search engine is working, you might find some curious with reproducable experimental apparatus on the Anti-Gravity front out of Brazil using thermionic currents and mu metal. (Achieved -1.25 G! and the apparatus and methods are published!) There are published at least 4 technologies that generate energy without fuel and they all can be reproduced. --- Wake up! Science is a baby not a grown up art.

        • by Zenaku (821866) on Friday October 20, 2006 @10:13AM (#16515731)
          Real breakthroughs have occured and they violate the "Rules" that are accepted.


          No, they do not violate the rules. They merely overcome them or clarify them. An anti-gravity device using thermionic currents for example, does not violate the laws of gravity. It applies the required amount of propulsion to overcome gravity, using thermionic currents. We also have anti-gravity devices using rocket fuel, or hot air. None of them violate the rules.

        • by ceoyoyo (59147)
          While you're correct that science changes and grows as we discover more, fortunately there are certain standards. Most of the stuff in your post doesn't measure up to them.

          I'm glad to see you got modded funny. When I saw the +4 I was worried.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Chickens as fusion engines - clearly the solution to all humanity's energy problems.

          Sorry, bud, but telling us to "google for it" ain't proof. If life really could do microfusion (and contain the energy derived without exploding - come on, endothermic atomic reactions?), it would be HUGE news, all over journals everywhere. Biologists and physicists would be lining up for the PhD's in it. That kind of revolutionary science does not go unnoticed.

          Until you have some more credible proof than telling a bunch of
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Albinofrenchy (844079)
          That anti-gravity thing in brazil is sketchy as shit.
    • Answers (Score:5, Informative)

      by dtmos (447842) on Friday October 20, 2006 @05:45AM (#16514111)
      (a) It's naturally radioactive. Also, from TFA: "Coauthors of the present paper learned of a new water-filled fracture inside a South African gold mine near the Johannesburg metropolitan area and viewed it as an opportunity to study subsurface rock uncontaminated by human activities."

      (b) It's not practical to use its radioactivity as a power source, however, because it's only mildly radioactive in the natural state; said another way, it's not appreciably warm, so the amount of heat given off of natural uranium due to its radioactivity is negligible.

      (c) Most (nearly all) human-generated nuclear waste has the same answer as (b); of that that is appreciably warm, there's too little of it to be useful as a power source.

      (d) You got it.

      Note that the bacteria do not use radioactivity directly, but rather use hydrogen from their environment, made from decomposing water exposed to radioactivity, as an energy source. Again from TFA: "This fracture water contained hydrocarbons and hydrogen not likely to have been created through biological processes, but rather from decomposition of water exposed to radiation from uranium-bearing rocks."
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by spun (1352)
        Natural nuclear reactors [wikipedia.org] have existed in the past, in Oklo, Gabon. So uranium in its natural state can get very warm if it's concentrated enough.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Is uranium naturally radioactive

      Yes.
      without the creepy fission reactions?

      WTF. It naturally does creepy fission reactions slowly. Put lots of it together under the right conditions and it naturally does creepy fission reactions quick enough to be useful.
    • by OrangeTide (124937) on Friday October 20, 2006 @05:55AM (#16514159) Homepage Journal
      Russian satellites often use decay reactors to drive the electronics. You don't get a whole lot of energy out of it, but the reactor can be quite small (small enough to put in a satellite) and lasts for quite some time. (20-100 years)

      It is not viable for large scale power, since you would need so much Uranium and other material to get megawatts of power out of it. I think they can make them out of Plutonium too (which is not naturally occurring)

      Nuclear "waste" is already converted back into fissile material, if material is radioactively hot it is pretty easy to extract energy from. It's the stuff that is slightly radioactive with a long half life that is not very useful and becomes low grade waste.

      Please explain what is "creepy" about fission? Seems like a better deal than burning oil. What is the point of having an electric car if you're just going to charge it by burning coal and oil?
      • by LividBlivet (898817) on Friday October 20, 2006 @07:41AM (#16514543)
        "What is the point of having an electric car if you're just going to charge it by burning coal and oil?"

        Electric motors are much more efficient.
        Electricity can come from non-polluting sources.
        The cost of electricity hasn't risen 300% in six years.
        Pollution from a few sources is more easily managed and disperses less than from millions of ground level sources.
        Electric cars are simpler mechanically, more reliable and easier to repair.
        Electric cars accelerate faster and can use regenerative braking.
        Existing range limitations can be overcome with improved battery chemistry.

        see www.whokilledtheelectriccar.com to see why we're not driving them and why all the EV1's were destroyed.

        Offtopic but you did ask.
         
        • by voidptr (609) on Friday October 20, 2006 @11:02AM (#16516335) Homepage Journal
          The cost of electricity hasn't risen 300% in six years.

          It will the minute the US's demand for it doubles quicker than we can build new infrastucture.

          In terms of raw energy consumption, the total amount of energy the US consumes as electricty from some source right now is within the same order of magnitude as the amount of energy we use burning gasoline in cars.

          Switch to electric cars in any sort of accelerated timeframe, and watch electricity prices go up just as quick as oil is now.
    • by patio11 (857072) on Friday October 20, 2006 @06:03AM (#16514185)
      (Slashdotters who already know this can feel free to ignore it. Everyone has to learn science sometime, if you had the good fortune to learn it years ago no reason to jump on someone who hasn't yet.)

      Yes, uranium is naturally radioactive. Much of nature is naturally radioactive, including you, incidentally. There is a certain amount of what is called "background radiation" around you twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, there would still be even if no human had ever drawn a single breath. Uranium just happens to be quite a bit more radioactive than you are, owing to its nuclear structure.

      Now, uranium like most metals doesn't come in handily available lumps in the natural world, but is found in ores: the ore is called pitchblend, in the case of uranium. Humans extract pitchblend (at a ratio of a few pounds of pitchblend to a lot of tons of boring old rock), extract the uranium, and then refine/enrich the uranium so that we get the exact isotopes of it we need for our nuclear power/weapons needs. (Isotopes are the same element, except with a different number of neutrons in the nucleus. Different isotopes of elements have vastly different radioactive properties. For example, the most common isotope of hydrogen isn't radioactive at all, and your body contains a heck of a lot of the stuff. The least common isotope of hydrogen, tritium, has two neutrons in it, and is used for making hydrogen bombs.)

      So there are essentially three ways an atom can alter the configuration of its nucleus and release energy. Number one, it splits off into two atoms (fission). Number two, it fuses with another atom (fusion). Number three, it spits out something that was in its nucleus (radioactive decay -- there are a couple of types of this, producing radiation of various levels of danger -- alpha decay, for example, can be stopped with a piece of paper, gamma decay on the other hand will penetrate a meter of concrete). You can cause fission by manipulating radioactive decay in the right way, but it will happen really bloody slowly over time regardless -- uranium, for example, has a half life in the millions of years, which means that of a given sample it will take millions of years for one half of it to radiate and transform into whatever the next step is. Now, a bit of pitchblend just sitting on the counter isn't going to be useful for much of anything, although if you handle it for a few months or years you're at an elevated risk of getting cancer (and if you get radium, a radioactive gas, in your lungs, well, its less than good for you). So you can't, say, just chuck it in a specially designed miniature nuclear power plant and have it power your refrigerator. But a comparitively small amount of the concentrated, refined stuff (a few tens or hundreds of kilograms, as I recall), plus a nuclear plant designed to accelerate the fission faster than it occurs in nature, can literally power a city for years.

      Nuclear power, even with the downside of producing harmful radiation (which is almost totally controllable, incidentally), is already very useful. Several countries and many, many communities are dependent on it to keep the lights running, the computers playing WoW, and air conditioners conditioning, the welders welding, and all those electricity-using things modern society depends on. If you're an environmentally concerned sort, you might also be happy to know that it generates extraordinarily little pollution compared to the refinement and combustion of fossil fuels.

      This lesson in nuclear chemistry has been brought to you by the letter U and the number 235.
      • It creates a gruesome ending for those who are nearby and afar.
  • So the real question is can we engineer these bacteria to be more productive and then, rather than pumping oil out of the ground, we can run our cars off hydrogen out of the ground. It may not be totally green but at least we can keep the genetically engineered, radioactive slime a couple of miles underground (that is, until it learns to crawl :-)
    • by nickovs (115935) on Friday October 20, 2006 @05:39AM (#16514085)
      It may not be totally green...

      OK, before someone else says it, it's not green at all because living without sunlight it has no chlorophyll!
    • How exactly would the bacteria play a role in this? The radioactivity produces the hydrogen... the bacteria use that hydrogen as a fuel source.
      • by nickovs (115935)
        How exactly would the bacteria play a role in this? The radioactivity produces the hydrogen... the bacteria use that hydrogen as a fuel source.

        I was envisioning them capturing the single H free radicals that result from the fission of the water and turning them into H2 gas before they had a chance of reacting with something else (e.g. the O or OH left behind in the split). You'd need some way to separate out and stabilise the products before trying to get them to the surface.
  • by Colin Smith (2679) on Friday October 20, 2006 @05:55AM (#16514163)
    I go away for a couple of weeks and my fridge grows green slime without any aid from sunlight at all.

     
    • by z0idberg (888892) on Friday October 20, 2006 @06:19AM (#16514241)
      Thats because theres a light in there.

      And don't try to tell me it goes off when you close the door, cause I open it real fast sometimes and it is definately always on.
      • I suggest you drill a hole in the door so you can debunk this urban myth once and for all.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by ajs318 (655362)
          Even easier, just wire an ammeter in series with the refrigerator. If the current consumption drops when the door is closed, then you can suppose the light is going off.

          One time, I borrowed a brand new and very expensive digital amp/volt/ohm meter from university and took it home to my shared student flat with the intent to perform this very experiment. I set the fridge thermostat to defrost (so the motor would be off), unplugged the fridge from the wall and removed the screw and fuse from the mains p
  • by 99luftballon (838486) on Friday October 20, 2006 @06:00AM (#16514181)
    I love these kinds of stories. We can blow this planet up, it can ice up to the equator or even shift on its axis and life will survive and take another shot in a few thousand millennia.

    On a practical note I wonder what a handful of this particular type would make of a nuclear waste pile...
  • by Viol8 (599362) on Friday October 20, 2006 @06:09AM (#16514211)
    Comments along the lines of "we've found life in such & such extreme enviroment which makes life elsewhere in the universe more likely." Hmm , I'm not convinced. Thing is , I think life evolved in a fairly benevolent enviroment (and even then it took quite a few billion years) where organic molecules had time to arrange themselves into precursors living cells. I very much doubt this would have happened in somewhere blasted with radiation/intense heat/cold/whatever where extremophiles live. However once the mechanisms of life are up and running THEN things can adapt to extreme enviroments because they have a number of pre existing mechanisms that be mutated to do allow this , but that doesn't mean that these mechanisms could have evolved in the extreme enviroment in the first place. Its a bit like an Alien arriving on earth and seeing humans standing on top of Everest and then assuming that a large ape evolved 7 miles up in freezing cold and low oxygen conditions. Adaptation to an enviroment is NOT the same as emergence within it.
    • by akozakie (633875) on Friday October 20, 2006 @06:45AM (#16514323)
      The thing is, we don't really know what is needed to create life. Assuming that it absolutely cannot emerge in a given environment is, well, unjustified. We have some theories (btw, according to them a somewhat "extreme" environment is actually helpful - it speeds up reactions, and creating organic matter and arranging it into a sort of protoorganism is a bit of a random process) - but that's it.

      What's important is that this example shows that we also do not really know what is necessary to sustain life. Some things are obvious - the right kind of solvent, water being almost irreplaceable, some source of energy, etc. However, our understanding of the details is still insufficient. In this case we see that radiation, which is viewed as detrimental to life, even though life can adapt to tolerate it, can actually have an opposite role. Can life emerge with only radiation as an energy source? We don't really know, we can doubt it but we can't exlude it as a possibility. Once it's there, can it survive? Now we know, yes.

      This opens new possibilities. For example, we have to be more careful when saying that some kind of object in space cannot support life. With what we learned from this, life could even exist on/in interstellar debris, comets etc., where there is definitely not enough sunlight, as long as there are some radioactive elements there - not too little, not too much, but how can we tell where to draw the line? I'm not saying that life exists in such places, only that now we have to accept such a possibility.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MichaelSmith (789609)
      However once the mechanisms of life are up and running THEN things can adapt to extreme enviroments because they have a number of pre existing mechanisms that be mutated to do allow this

      I don't see how bacteria could adapt to live 2.5km below the ground. If they are surface organisms which get subducted then they should be killed almost immediately and will wind up in the mantle in any case.

    • by tgd (2822) on Friday October 20, 2006 @07:24AM (#16514461)
      Thing is , I think life evolved in a fairly benevolent enviroment

      Yeah, and I think Shakira would have a great time spending a weekend naked with me, but I kind of suspect it might not be true....
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Xiroth (917768)
      (and even then it took quite a few billion years)
      Not really. Current estimates place the beginning of life at .5 to 1 billion years after the formation of the Earth; 3.4 - 3.9 billion years ago.

      Take a read of the Wikipedia article on the history of our planet [wikipedia.org], it's a fascinating story.
    • by v1 (525388) on Friday October 20, 2006 @07:44AM (#16514563) Homepage Journal
      The emergence of the "first life" on earth is widely agreeed to have been a serendipity - a fortunate accident, that produced a self-sustaining, replicating, chain reaction, which eventually through chance developed the qualities we use to describe life. So unless you insist that some diety had a part in it, it was all luck. A very unusual circumstance occurring, and the environment it developed in happened to be friendly enough to the system to not destroy it immediately.

      If you can accept this, then realize there are two more things that follow naturally.

      1. this has happened before. Probably more than once. The "spark of life" likely happened repeatedly over the eons on earth and was simply snuffed out by a falling rock or blob of lava or unfriendly temperatures or a sudden shift of pH or whathaveyou. The one that eventually led to what we consider "life" here just got a little luckier than the rest.

      2. since this is already being attributed to absurd chance, take a gambler's perpective on it. If the odds of winning one lottery are one in a million, and the odds of winning another lottery are one in five million, and we have already seen someone win the $1m lottery, is it sensible to say that no one can win the $5m lottery because the odds are too low? If you have already seen the high odds fail to deny a winner, why does making the odds a little worse suddenly preclude the possibility?

      Really, it doesn't matter what the odds are, so long as they are nonzero. If you roll the dice enough times it doesn't matter. Everything that can happen eventually will happen.

      True, it would be easier for life to evolve into this radiation-sustained form from another form of life, but it's certainly not impossible for genesis in that situation. Just a lot less likely. But when you are talking about things that have the patience of and that operate on the timescale of genesis or evolution, if the odds are one in a billion you may as well say it's going to happen sometime this morning.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by enrevanche (953125)
        No, the odds do really matter. Most things that are possible that will never happen because the odds are too great, they are much higher than any of these numbers you speculate. If you want to speculate on all the things that "could" happen, you can do it all day.

        Evolution happens bit by bit, so for an organism to exist, it needs to be in an environment that is hospitable enough to allow molecules to become more and more complex, to allow organisms to evolve and adapt. After all, it is "possible" for the

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        >Really, it doesn't matter what the odds are, so long
        >as they are nonzero. If you roll the dice enough times
        >it doesn't matter. Everything that can happen eventually
        >will happen.

        The problem with that is that another way of saying the *exact
        same thing* is:

        "If I just postulate enough time, I can claim that otherwise
        unacceptably improbable events are a slam dunk to have occured."
  • There is some speculation about life on other planets in the article as well

    There always is, isn't there.
  • Hindenburg disaster? (Score:5, Informative)

    by inflex (123318) on Friday October 20, 2006 @07:23AM (#16514459) Homepage Journal

    "Hydrogen gas is highly energetic if it reacts with oxygen or other oxidants like sulfate, as the Hindenburg disaster demonstrated."

    What's the point of adding these sorts of comments? It's it widely understood that the actual flames captured on the footage was in fact from the covering and paint of the Hindenburg, not the hydrogen which would have very rapidly dissapated in the first place?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      What's the point of adding these sorts of comments? It's it widely understood that the actual flames captured on the footage was in fact from the covering and paint of the Hindenburg, not the hydrogen which would have very rapidly dissapated in the first place?

      This is wrong, although it's a common belief. It is refuted in the following scientific paper: http://spot.colorado.edu/~dziadeck/zf/LZ129fire.pd f [colorado.edu] . The burning fabric theory has mainly been spread by a TV documentary, and behind it is Addison Bain,

    • by Waffle Iron (339739) on Friday October 20, 2006 @09:01AM (#16515021)
      It's it widely understood that the actual flames captured on the footage was in fact from the covering and paint of the Hindenburg,

      That's partly true. The burning covering provided the soot that was able to glow and make the flames visible. Hydrogen flames are almost invisible.

      However, urban legends about the extreme flammability of the doping notwithstanding, there is NO WAY a vessel the size of the Titanic could be vaporized in 30 seconds, throwing a mushroom cloud hundreds of feet into the air, unless the reaction was driven mainly by the burning hydrogen gas. The gas did dissipate quickly; it just happened to be burning as it did.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Hydrogen - air will burn over a very wide range of ratios - 4% H to I think 74% H in air. The result is that it would be very unlikely that the hydrogen could disperse rapidy enough to not be involved in the fire.

  • Not only do these bacteria use radiation as their primary source of energy, the byproducts they generate sustain other organisms as well. An entire radioactive ecosystem hidden underground... Fascinating. I wonder if there's stuff like this at the bottom of the ocean, too. You know, like those radioactive snails from a while back, only... useful.
  • by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Friday October 20, 2006 @10:59AM (#16516297)
    that a life form that uses radioactivity is fairly stable.

    news on chernobyl shows that life can adapt to radioactivity quicker and better than we thought too.
  • No sunlight needed? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Pedrito (94783) on Friday October 20, 2006 @11:39AM (#16516893) Homepage
    Wow, this is really amazing, because all the bacteria in our digestive track surely relies on sunlight for life.

    Bacteria, in general, do not use photosynthesis. A few do, but very few. What bacteria use for an energy source varies quite a bit, actually. But it's certainly not strange for a bacteria to not need sunlight, since the vast majority don't.

    Technically, these aren't event bacteria. They're extremophiles which means they fall in the Archae domain, not the Bacteria domain. But maybe I'm being too picky.
    • by Steve Hamlin (29353) on Friday October 20, 2006 @01:52PM (#16518723) Homepage

      Bad title, I do realize. It should be "Strange Bacteria Sustains Itself Without Dependence on Photosynthetic-based Food Chain"

      all the bacteria in our digestive track surely relies on sunlight for life (tounge-in-cheek)

      It isn't that everything else, including the bacteria in your gut, relies directly on sunlight for photosynthesis [wikipedia.org] that it performs iteself, but rather that the entire food chain [wikipedia.org] depends on photosynthesis as the underlying energy-fixating process.

      The bacteria in your GI tract rely on the food you eat, which is either plants (photosynthetic autotrophs) or animals (heterotrophs feeding on photosynthetic autotrophs).

      Every part of life that you are used to ultimately depends on photosythesis as the source for the energy in the food chain.

      Exceptions are rare, which is why this is interesting. Chemosynthetic organisms [wikipedia.org] (such as archaea and other extremophiles), are found near deep sea hydrothermal vents, using geothermal heat as the source energy. These South African bacetria are a second type of chemosythetic ecosystem.

      It appears that these newly discovered bacteria in South Africa are chemotrophs using hydrogen and sulfates, with radiation being the underlying energy source, with no underlying food-chain-based dependency on photsynthesis.

  • by illegalcortex (1007791) on Friday October 20, 2006 @11:44AM (#16516969)
    ...all I can think about was this awful novel by Robert L. Forward called Camelot 30K [wikipedia.org]. Good science, bad writing.

Man must shape his tools lest they shape him. -- Arthur R. Miller

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