Microbes living in Antarctica's saltiest lake swap huge chunks of genetic material as a means of surviving their harsh environment, a new study finds.
The single-celled organisms, called haloarchaea for their salt-loving ways, are biologically distinct from bacteria, algae and other tiny creatures that can thrive in extreme settings.
Their Antarctic home is a deep lake in the Vestfold Hills severed from the ocean more than 3,000 years ago. Appropriately named Deep Lake, the basin sits 50 meters (165 feet) below sea level. Deep Lake is so salty that it's never been known to freeze, even at temperatures below minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 20 degrees Celsius).
Little else lives in Deep Lake except haloarchaea. For years, scientists have been analyzing the microbes to see what makes them thrive in the strange environment, and for clues to possible life on other planets.