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Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Strangest life forms ever -- Part I
If scientists find microbes in a frigid lake two miles (3.21 km) beneath the thick ice of Antarctica, it will illustrate once again that somehow life finds a way to survive in the strangest and harshest places.

And it will offer hope that life exists beyond Earth.

Russian researchers reported this month that they had reached Lake Vostok, a pristine body of water untouched by light or wind for about 20 million years. They want to know what type of microbial life — bacteria too small to see — might exist there.

Finding microbes may not sound like much. But they were the first forms of life on Earth, eons before plants and animals existed.

If scientists find these tiny germs in Lake Vostok, it bolsters already strong hope that elsewhere in our solar system, life also might exist where once it didn't seem possible. Here are plenty of examples of life forms existing in the most improbable of places:

• A tiny shrimp, captured on a NASA video, was found floating under thick ice sheets in a different part of Antarctica.

• Tubeworms somehow get needed energy from violent hydrothermal vents in the deepest Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

• A germ, called "the world's toughest bacterium" by the Guinness Book of World Records and also termed "Conan the Bacterium," was found 55 years ago in a can of meat. It survives and even repairs itself in radiation that would be deadly to cockroaches.

• In the highly acidic Rio Tinto in Spain, where you dare not stick a hand, life thrives.

• In Chile's Atacama Desert, so dry that scientists use it as an analog for Mars, life has been found blowing in the arid wind.

• A microbe was found in a South African gold mine that essentially lives on radioactivity in the mine.

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