‘Bizarre Bacteria’ in Lake Vostok Study Likely a Contaminant
In a report by the Russian news agency RIA Novosti, Sergey Bulat of the Laboratory of Eukaryote Genetics at the St. Petersburg Nuclear Physics Institute seemed to claim that the bacterium was not the result of contamination because its DNA did not match any of the species identified as contaminants in the drilling fluid.
In the RIA Novosti report, Bulat was quoted as saying, “After excluding all known contaminants…we discovered bacterial DNA that does not match any known species listed in global databanks. We call it unidentified and ‘unclassified’ life.”
However, the head of the St. Petersburg Nuclear Physics Institute, Vladimir Korolev, quickly cautioned that contamination from the kerosene could not be ruled out (see this report from the Russian Times: rt.com) Then, on Saturday March 9, Korolev confirmed to Russia’s Interfax News Agency that further examination proved the bacteria to be nothing more than contaminants.
It’s a disappointing result, but the story of life’s potential in Lake Vostok is not over. The most important thing to note is that none of this work has appeared in publication yet, so the stories surrounding any life in Lake Vostok are pure speculation. Only future work in the laboratory will determine whether or not the Vostok samples hold anything of scientific interest worth publishing.