By Ed Yong
It is a truly inhospitable environment, but it still harbors life—microbes, thriving in its frigid waters. These extreme survivors were the organisms Gilbert was there to study. He reached them by drilling through 1.4 meters of ice and pulling up samples of water. Then, he retired to a bare-bones hut for the night.
Gilbert had to wrap up warm to avoid freezing to death. But microbes can survive in the planet’s coldest places through other means. Some produce antifreeze proteins—molecules that latch onto small ice crystals and stop them from growing bigger. By releasing these proteins into the space around them, the microbes can lower the freezing point of water and create a network of liquid in which they swim and feed.
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