NASA Astrobiology Science and Technology for Exploring Planets (ASTEP) Program
Subsurface ice and brine sampling: Life Detection and Characterization in the McMurdo Dry Valleys Using an Ultrasonic Gopher

Affiliation(s) PI/CoPI Project Period Funded by
DEES

Peter Doran, UIC (PI)
Chris Fritsen
Alison Murray
Yoseph (Yosi) Bar-Cohen, JPL
Fabien Kenig, UIC
Chris McKay, NASA Ames

01/2003 - Present National Science Foundation
— Office of Polar Programs

Collaborators: John Priscu, Montana State University

Keywords: astrobiology, subsurface ice, brine, McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica, ultrasound, Lake Vida, drilling

Project Description

Evidence from ice cores and ground penetrating radar suggested that the previously thought to be completely frozen Lake Vida has a saturated brine lake underlying the 60 ft. ice cover. The goal of this project was to sample the subsurface brine in Lake Vida using a new drilling technology. This brine is one of the most extreme aquatic habitats on the planet - and whether life exists there is still unknown. Along with Chris Fritsen at DRI and other colleagues from University of Illinois we embarked on a field expedition in December 2005 to sample the brine. We did not enter the lake, but sampled brine that invaded the deep hole we drilled. At McMurdo Station we ran assays to characterize the microbial activity in this rather inhospitable brine (-13C, 6X salinity of seawater, and dissolved nutrients and metals that may prohibit growth). Now at DRI we are performing DNA sequencing of bacterial genes to determine the identities of the life inhabiting the brine collected from the ice cover.

Research Image Gallery

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Bacteria stained with DAPI  Alison Murray and Peter Doran stepping outside the Mount Hood ski boundaries for drill testing and glacial ice. The drill.

Project Website: NASA Astrobiology Science and Technology for Exploring Planets (ASTEP) Program