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Saturday, January 19, 2002

Mars-Like Microbes

Mars-like microbes.
Mars-like microbes.
Credit: Jim Brown/No State
(CNN) - Scientists plumbing the bubbling, black depths of a geothermal hot spring in Idaho have discovered a unique community of microbes that thrive without sunlight or oxygen. The organisms are similar to life as it might exist on Mars and other planets, the researchers suggested. The one-celled organisms, known as Archaea, grow by consuming hydrogen that is produced by hot water reacting with bedrock 600 feet (180 meters) below the Beaverhead Mountains. They produce tiny amounts of methane as a byproduct of their weird metabolism. Although types of Archaea have been found before, this community is unlike anything else on Earth. Details of the discovery appear in Thursday's issue of the Nature. Most life on Earth flourishes not only in the presence of water, but also relies on oxygen, sunlight and organic carbon. But conditions on the rest of the planets -- and perhaps beyond the solar system -- are far more hostile. Astrobiologists said these real-life microbes closely resemble what they imagine might be lurking beneath the dry, barren surface of Mars or the thick glaciers of Europa, one of Jupiter's moons.

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- posted by Alex @ 22:53 EST