Discovered in Antarctica an ancient ecosystem, unique of its kind, hidden under the surface of the ice: found in the hypersaline brine of the Boulder Clay glacier, near the Mario Zucchelli Italian scientific station, it is characterized by fungi and bacteria that could provide important clues for the search for life forms on icy planets such as Uranus and Neptune.
The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports by the Institute of Polar Sciences of the National Research Council of Messina (Cnr-Isp), as part of the Ipeca project coordinated by the University of Trieste, in collaboration with the University of Insubria of Varese, the University of Perugia, the Ca' Foscari University of Venice and the Free University of Bolzano.
The research - promoted within the framework of the National Research Program in Antarctica (Pnra) financed by the Mur and coordinated by the Cnr for scientific activities and by Enea for the operational implementation of the expeditions - has made it possible to identify in the glacier area of Boulder Clay of hypersaline frosts which "due to their microbial and geochemical diversity determine a unique habitat compared to the frosts studied so far in that area", observes Angelina Lo Giudice, researcher at the Cnr-Isp.
"This diversity of microorganisms is the probable consequence of a progressive concentration of sea water in the ice masses, which already began to occur in remote times".
“In these particular habitats, the high salt content in the ice causes the brine to remain in a liquid state.
This - underlines Maurizio Azzaro, Cnr-Isp researcher and scientific coordinator of the 38th Italian expedition to Antarctica - leads us to hypothesize that there may also be similar cryo-ecosystems in other terrestrial areas where glaciers are present.
For many years, our institute has been working on these issues, which are considered pioneering.
The goal of the research is to acquire more information on microbial life in extreme conditions, because our idea is that cryoecosystems can also exist on so-called frozen planets, such as Uranus and Neptune for example".