Asphalt Lake Is Teeming With Life

Around boiling undersea hydrothermal vents? Inside a nuclear reactor? Under an arctic rock? Those harsh living conditions may not seem compatible to life to you and me, but extremophiles love 'em.

Scientists have discovered yet another unlikely place where you can find (microbial) life: a hot asphalt lake.

Pitch Lake is a poisonous, foul smelling, hell hole on the Caribbean island of Trinidad and Tobago. The lake is filled with hot asphalt and bubbling with noxious hydrocarbon gases and carbon dioxide. Water is scarce here and certainly below the levels normally thought of as a threshold for life.

These alien conditions have made Pitch Lake a place of more than passing interest to astrobiologists. Various scientists have suggested that it is the closest thing on Earth to the kind of hydrocarbon lakes that we can see on Saturn's moon Titan. Naturally, these scientists would very much like to answer the question of what kind of life these places can support.

Today, Dirk Schulze-Makuch from Washington State University and a few buddies provide an answer. Pitch lake, they say, is teaming (sic) with microbial life. They say that, on average, each gram of goo in the lake contains some 10^7 living cells.

Never underestimate Mother Nature, guys: Link


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