We’ve been following the Antarctic drilling projects for a while now; there have been three major projects to drill holes in some of the coldest and most remote lakes on the planet to see what’s underneath all the ice. The reason we’re so interested in these hard-to-study lakes is for their relation to other worlds, specifically Europa and Enceladus, the frozen moons of Jupiter and Saturn, respectively. And last week, the Russians, who have been drilling into Lake Vostok, the coldest and deepest lake of them all, announced that they had in fact found a new type of bacteria, seemingly unrelated to all known organisms on the planet.
That announcement came on the heels of the American discovery of microbes in Lake Vida, and seemed to usher in a pattern–were there creatures in many more of these frozen lakes?
Except, well, no. This weekend, Vladimir Korolyov, the head of the Russian genetics laboratory at Saint Petersburg Institute of Nuclear Physics, admitted to Interfax (a news agency catering to Russia, China, and surrounding areas) that the bacteria they had found were nothing but contaminants. This wasn’t completely unexpected, given earlier reports. Says Korolyov: “We found certain specimen, although not many. All of them were contaminants… That is why we cannot say that previously-unknown life was found.”