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Scientists Finding Strange Life Forms in Great Salt Lake

Scientists Finding Strange Life Forms in Great Salt Lake

Posted - May 31, 2004 at 4:01 p.m.



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Ed Yeates ReportingA consortium of scientists, including a Utah biologist, say some weird creatures found in the Great Salt Lake might help unravel some of the mysteries on Mars.

Though the Great Salt Lake is a dead sea - drying up even more this year from years of drought - it's far from dead. On the northern arm of the lake microbiologists from Westminster College in Salt Lake have been taking samples of water.

With levels now at a 30-year low, the salt in portions of the shrinking lake has reached saturation levels ten times the salinity of seawater. Westminster, the University of Maryland and George Mason University are not only finding life where life shouldn't exist, but life, perhaps like nothing of this earth.

Instead of the rods, spheres and spiral shapes microbiologists are familiar with, they're seeing organisms shaped like pyramids, triangles, squares and crescents.

Dr. Bonnie Baxter, Westminster College Microbiologist: "Completely novel sequences that don't match up with anything in the databases. And one of our genome guys who was taking a look at these said this looks like alien DNA. It doesn't match anything we have on earth."

Dr. Baxter and her colleagues say, why not believe that what's happening to the Great Salt Lake right now, at one time happened on the planet Mars.

The Mars Rover uncovered what appears to be a very large dried up lake bed similar to the Great Basin. What's gradually happening to our own dead sea could have happened on the red planet a long, long time ago. If so, the unique pinkish organisms inside salt crystals from dried up portions of our own lake might be inside similar salt formations on Mars.

Baxter: "There was a group of scientists a couple of years ago who actually got some organisms out of some 250-million year old formations and were able to bring them back to life."

Inside Westminster's lab, Dr. Bonnie Baxter and her team can easily revive the organisms inside the Salt Lake crystals. The Great Salt Lake scientific consortium would love to see what might happen now if you could bring pieces of salt formations from Mars back to earth.

And it's not just the mysteries of Mars. These unusual organisms which survive extremes of heat, cold, acidity, pressure, radiation and salinity might also hold secrets for the development of new drugs.

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