If you want to see some of the toughest, toughest creatures on the planet, you’ll need a microscope. Germs – bacteria, amoebae, archaea and many more – can live almost anywhere from the bottom of the ocean to the top of tall mountains. There are billions in your body right now and they can even survive in the cold emptiness of space. So you can imagine how surprised Noah Fier and his team of microbial ecologists were to find no microbial life anywhere.
“Current microorganisms have been identified in even the most polluted environments, and it is widely assumed that all of the world’s environments must have identifiable microorganisms,” the team wrote in the study, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research. “This assumption is probably incorrect.” Given how ubiquitous germs have been given across the planet, there was no common feature found anywhere where they were not already colonized. In fact, researchers had to go to the Shackleton Glacier in Antarctica where a unique combination of cold, dry and salty conditions merged to create the world’s least hospitable environment.
Nicholas Dragon, the co-author of the study, explained to Science News, “It is a combination of multiple highly challenging environmental conditions that limit life by its own performance alone.” “It’s just a different barrier than the high temperature.” Using a range of experiments, researchers are looking for evidence of microscopic life by analyzing more than 200 soil samples from the region. And although a large number of people contained enough germs for the group to identify and classify different species, 20% did not turn any microbial DNA into good ones. “We are not suggesting that we have found lifeless ’or sterile ’soils, or that we cannot detect low-temperature polarity for life,” the paper warns.
“However, our inability to detect microbial or microbial activity in specific soils implies that these surface soils present microbial activity and survival limitations in cold, dry and salty environmental conditions.” Now, basically, the discovery doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it really is. As you can see, germs are one of our best bets in search of extraterrestrial life, and astronomers have recently become very excited about the possibility of a bunch of microscopic creatures crawling on Mars. But if there is a place on Earth where no germs are found, Fier and his team say, it will probably not be easy to find on Mars.