Photo: Scientific Research in Antarctica
With its strategic position as one of the few pathways into Antarctica, Chilean scientists are developing well over 30 different new research projects in the cold, southern depths of the planet.
Once a completely inaccessible continent, Antarctica is today one of the most prolific scientific research locations, as far as investigations of new organisms that will influence the science and technology of the future.
According to José Retamales, the director of the Chilean Antarctic Institute, Chile developed a record number of projects during this past season, 41% more than 2009.
There are currently 52 projects in effect in Antarctica, a record number for the institute in its 47 years, both as far as open projects as well as investments: more than 6 million dollars finance these investigations.
“One of the most groundbreaking moments, was when we discovered a microorganism called “deinoccus sp;” this microorganism is capable of resisting very high levels of gamma and UV radiation. These are organisms that developed outside of our planet, and represent the ancient lineage that can be found in Antarctica,” says Marcelo Leppe, director of the science department at the institute.
One of the projects being developed at Deception Island, an ancient sea born volcano where temperatures of up to 212 degrees are mixed with glaciers, pyroclastic material and a special mineral composition. Scientists have studied the DNA of these microorganisms, in order to establish their identity and to know their properties. Some of them, according to Leppe are oil degraders, very rare to find in the low temperatures of Antarctica.
Two other unique micro-organisms in the region, the “Colobanthus quintesis” and “Deschampsia antartica,” are the only two vascular plants that grow in Antarctica today; analysis of these plants resistance to UV light and anti-freeze compounds inside their cells, will help provide insights into anticancer treatments.