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Swap DNA to survive in -4 degrees water

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In Deep Lake in Antarctica scientists have found that the single-cell microbe haloarchaea are swapping DNA to survive in minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit water.

The findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The microbes in order to grow need high salt concentrations. They are known for being "promiscuous" meaning they readily exchange DNA among themselves, according to Rick Cavicchioli, University of New South Wales, Australia.

"Despite this rampant gene swapping, the different species are maintained and can co-exist because they have evolved to exploit different niches and consume different food sources," Cavicchioli said.

The microbes live on water, sugars or algae and only produce six generations yearly due to the cold, whereas archaea typically reproduce several times a day. They are invisible to the naked eye but make up most of the oceans' biomass and are vital to the earth's life being sustained. They create most of the oxygen humans breathe, soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and recycle nutrients. All the marine wildlife we can see totals to less than 5 percent of the biomass including all fish, whales. dolphins, sponges and other creatures. Only one critical group of the microbes being destroyed would cause life on the planet to cease. From 10 to 100 million viruses may be found in one teaspoonful of sea water.

Globally isolated Deep Lake in the Vestfold Hills area is considered the saltiest in the world, almost 120 feet deep, and 3,500 years old. It remains in liquid form down to minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit due to its extremely high salt content. The sampling done in the study was the deepest ever accomplished with samples collected at over 3.7 miles from the water surface.

The findings are significant because they may be a clue to reducing energy costs for many situations such as cleaning contaminated sites in cold regions like Antartica. It could be possible to genetically engineer enzymes that tolerate extremely cold salty environments and be unaffected by organic solvents. The applications could also be in food processing, keeping foods cooled without refrigeration, and with biodegradable detergents and decontaminants working in cold temperatures on things like petroleum spills.

Cavicchioli says the haloarchaea "communicate, share, specialize, and coexist." If only humans could do it so well.

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