from the urls-we-dig-up dept
Humans may have made themselves masters of this planet, but there are still places on Earth that have been relatively untouched by people, where many new species of life are waiting to be discovered. Most of these lifeforms are very tiny -- insects, bacteria, and other microorganisms -- and they tend to live in extreme conditions, which is probably why they have escaped our discovery for so long. Here are just a few examples of what scientists are doing to make us more bio-literate.
- How many species of life exist on Earth? According to the National Science Foundation's "Tree of Life" project, there may be anywhere from 5 million to 100 million species on Earth. So far we have identified only about 2 million. [url]
- Penn State researchers have been studying the ultrasmall microbial population found at a depth of over 3,000 meters in a 120,000-year-old Greenland glacier ice core. They were able to isolate a variety of tiny microbes that were either phylogenetically new or related to other ultramicrobacteria. [url]
- Microbiologists are studying "thermophiles," the bacteria found at deep-sea hydrothermal vents where temperatures can exceed 350 degrees Celsius. The record for life growing at high temperatures is 113.25 degrees Celsius. Thermophiles are not only useful in helping us look for evidence of past and present life on other planets, but they also produce enzymes that can be used at high temperatures and for genetic research. [url]
- A NASA-sponsored expedition in 2011 found a huge phytoplankton bloom underneath the Arctic ice pack in the Chukchi Sea. This was the first direct observation of an under-ice algal bloom, which was previously thought to be impossible, and now scientists think such algal blooms may actually be more widespread and could be an important indicator of significant shifts in Arctic ecosystems, such as those caused by global warming.[url]