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Microbes found in Earth’s salty extremes

Primitive bacteria have been found thriving in extremely salty pockets of water at the bottom of the Mediterranean, boosting arguments that life could exist beyond Earth.
/ Source: Reuters

Primitive bacteria thrive in extremely salty pockets of water at the bottom of the Mediterranean, European researchers reported Thursday.

Their finding, published in the journal Science, adds to the number of extreme environments where life has been found, including extremely hot and cold regions and sulfur springs.

This in turn adds to arguments that life could exist beyond Earth, the researchers said.

The researchers, led by Paul van der Wielen at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, found what they describe as abundant colonies of microbes in the ancient salty pockets.

Found in the eastern Mediterranean, these relics of 6-million-year-old salty lakes have no oxygen and were thought to have no life.

"The Discovery Basin contains a brine that has the highest concentration of magnesium chloride found thus far in a marine environment; such concentrations are considered anathema to life," they wrote.

But the team found a wide variety of ancient bacteria and bacterialike microbes, including a class known as archaeobacteria.

"Our results indicate that microbial metabolism can proceed at significant levels in some of the most extreme terrestrial hypersaline environments and lend further support to the possibility of extraterrestrial life," the researchers concluded.