- Associated Press - Thursday, February 9, 2012

WASHINGTON (AP) - If scientists find microbes in a frigid lake two miles beneath the thick ice of Antarctica, it will illustrate once again that somehow life finds a way to survive in the strangest and harshest places.

And it will offer hope that life exists beyond Earth.

Russian researchers reported Wednesday that they had reached Lake Vostok, a pristine body of water untouched by light or wind for about 20 million years. They want to know what type of microbial life _ bacteria too small to see _ might exist there.

Finding microbes may not sound like much. But they were the first form of Earth life eons before plants and animals existed.

If scientists find these tiny germs in Lake Vostok, it bolsters already strong hope that elsewhere in our solar system, life also might exist where once it didn’t seem possible.

There are plenty of examples of life forms existing in the most improbable of places:

_A tiny shrimp was captured on a NASA video floating under thick ice sheets in a different part of Antarctica.

_Tubeworms somehow get needed energy from violent hydrothermal vents in the deepest Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

_A germ called “the world’s toughest bacterium” by the Guinness Book of World Records and also termed “Conan the Bacterium” was found 55 years ago in a can of meat. It survives and even repairs itself in radiation that would be deadly to cockroaches.

_In the highly acidic Rio Tinto in Spain, where you dare not stick a hand, life thrives.

_In Chile’s Atacama desert, so dry that scientists use it as an analog for Mars, life has been found blowing in the arid wind.

_ A microbe was found in a South African gold mine that essentially lives on radioactivity in the mine.

“Everything I’ve learned shows just how phenomenally amazing life is, certainly its ability to adapt,” said Carl Pilcher, who heads NASA’s Astrobiology Institute, which studies strange life here and the prospects for it elsewhere.

In fact, scientists are hard-pressed to say where they haven’t found life.

“The more we learn about life, the more we learn about its ability to grow and survive and prosper in environments that we formerly thought were too inhospitable,” said David Morrison, a senior scientist at NASA’s Astrobiology Institute.

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