When we look out on the winter landscape in our own backyards, we may well wonder how anything can survive out there, in the bleak, cold environment which offers in wintertime. Yet scientists have recently found that life can survive and grow in one of the harshest and most frigid spots on the planet, at the South Pole. I'm Dave Thurlow, and this is The Weather Notebook.
Researchers investigating the snows of the South Pole have discovered previously unknown species of bacteria which live, grow, and divide their way of reproducing at temperatures of near zero degrees Fahrenheit. The scientists believe the bacteria may live at even colder temperatures handy for them, since temperatures at the South Pole can range from about 9 degrees above zero all the way down to 120 degrees below zero, making the South Pole just about the coldest place on earth.
The recently discovered bacteria seem related to another type of bacteria which have evolved very efficient repair mechanisms for their DNA. This trait may help them survive in the Antarctic climate, which, besides being very cold, is also very dry and drying out, or "dessication", can be harmful to DNA.
The discovery of bacterial life in the snows of Antarctica is of interest to biologists, and also to "exo-biologists " - scientists who speculate on the possibility of life beyond earth. If bacteria can survive in one of this planet's coldest and most challenging environments, then some forms of life may be able to survive in even harsher climes such at that which prevails in winter on Mars, where the temperature can drop to 180 degrees below zero. Now there's a winter landscape.
The Weather Notebook is underwritten by Subaru, with support from the National Science Foundation.