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Nature & Environment

Weird 'alien' ecosystem emerges in abandoned uranium mine

By T.K. Randall
February 6, 2023 · Comment icon 12 comments



Weird life forms abound in the mine's old tunnels. Image Credit: I. Zirnstein et al, MicrobiologyOpen, 2012
Strange life forms have been found thriving in an environment that's totally inhospitable to almost everything else.
When it comes to environments conducive to life, the interior of the destroyed reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and the depths of a long-abandoned uranium mine are certainly not the first places you'd think to look.

Incredibly, however, places like these have become home to entire ecosystems of strange life forms.

Scientists recently delved into an abandoned uranium mine deep beneath Germany's Sandstone Mountains to investigate a peculiar ecosystem found in the pitch-black, radiation-filled tunnels.

The mine opened back in the 1960s but was later flooded and abandoned in the 1990s.
Today, however, its dilapidated tunnels are home to orange acidic 'streamers', stalactites formed from slime communities and strange gunk that makes the walls look as though they are melting.

Organisms found here include multi-celled eukaryotes, shape-altering amoebae, multi-appendaged flagellates and squid-like Heterolobosea.

This place, it turns out, is as alien as anything you might find in a science-fiction movie.

Life, it seems, has a habit of turning up in the most unexpected of places.

Source: Big Think | Comments (12)


Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #3 Posted by Rolci 1 month ago
Will be? So you hold a geocentric view in 2023. That's cute. Your theory, (sadly also held by others,) namely that life will eventually spread from Earth to other planets in our solar system, and, quite obviously and unavoidably, eventually to other star systems and galaxies as we explore and conquer space, while not flawed in principle (panspermia), has a flaw of a certain nature common to theories made up by our ancestors - your model is geocentric. For some reason you assume that somehow when you look around a universe teeming with life thousands (or millions) of years from now, with millio... [More]
Comment icon #4 Posted by Abramelin 1 month ago
Man, what a tome! You just needed an excuse to post it, right?
Comment icon #5 Posted by Grim Reaper 6 1 month ago
This discovery isn't really new at all. I studied these groups of Extremophiles' back in the 1980s when I was finishing my bachelor's degree in biology†at a Military Collage. These Extremophiles†not†only thrive and reproduce in Nuclear Reactors, and on exposed radioactive materials they suffer no negative effects at all. These little guys love the radiation and the higher the Dose Rate, the more these little fellows love it. Below is a great article from the Microbiology Society that explains how these little fellow, Survive, Reproduce and generally thrive on Radioactive Waste, exposed Uranium... [More]
Comment icon #6 Posted by Piney 1 month ago
We are a first generation rocky planet with extremely rare metals needed for technology only created in a binary white dwarf merger moving around a first generation†extremely quiet†yellow sun in a first generation spiral galaxy and have a large enough moon to prevent our oceans from tidally locking and allowing us to grow beyond a ground crawler. AND......we have just enough oxygen to control fire allowing for metallurgy and other technologies.† I'm not denying simple life in the Universe but we are most certainly a "one-off".† †
Comment icon #7 Posted by DanL 1 month ago
Once life has come into existence it will spread to a lot of other adjoining areas. Over time it will adapt and change to better fit the new and different ecologies. The BIG question is how and where did that first spark of life come from.
Comment icon #8 Posted by SHaYap 1 month ago
Mind boggling...† ~ †
Comment icon #9 Posted by Rolci 1 month ago
And these metals gathered from all around the Universe to form just this on planet right here, yes? And same for oxygen. And water, apparently, and I might add magically. Where are the oceans on Mars? Or all the moons of the solar system? † So are you saying this one planet was/is some kind or weirdness magnet? That would explain ghosts and UFOs as well I guess. But why just one planet should have all the water and oxygen in the universe rather than an even distribution ibn all directions by supernovae?
Comment icon #10 Posted by Piney 1 month ago
I'm not saying that at all. You have that a twisted mess. But your English sucks so I'll give you the doubt.† You need just enough oxygen to control fire for technology. Too much or too little and you can't. You need certain metals for technology and biochemistry. You need a active† tectonic cycle to throw those metals to the surface or they would sink to the core and be unobtainable and useless. The metals needed for advanced technology are only produced by a binary white dwarf merger which is a very rare event and our solar system just happened to pass through the cloud of one during it's fo... [More]
Comment icon #11 Posted by Rolci 1 month ago
† Putting aside the fact that your English stinks (who writes "during it's formation"??) I will just point out that technology is not a prerequisite for sentience. Neither is an exact percentage of oxygen in the atmosphere. Or even fire. Where did these come from?? Finally, the ways the Universe is capable of creating life are not based on your own limited, Earth-centered concepts, obviously. And neither are the ways in which sentient species (and their societies) may evolve. Technology as you understand it is neither a prerequisite nor a necessary outcome of sentient life.
Comment icon #12 Posted by Piney 1 month ago
I wasn't talking about sentient life. I was talking about a technological lifeform. But sentience still needs a evolutionary driver and biochemistry works the same everywhere. Frank Herbert imagined a planet wide sentient organism that only thought philosophical concepts. But there was no evolutionary pressures to create such a organism and he himself deemed it impossible. So exactly what imagined super being are you selling? Is it that unscientific Urantia garbage or some other newage trash? †


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