American scientists, showing the reckless disregard for the warnings implicit in quality science fiction that is so regrettably common in the boffinry community, have revived an ancient lifeform which has been slumbering beneath the Arctic ice pack for 120,000 years. To add insult to injury, the scientists believe that their laboratory revenant may be related to indestructible super-aliens yet to be discovered on extraterrestrial iceworlds.
The creature in question is named Herminiimonas glaciei, and was revived from its aeons-long sleep by Dr Jennifer Loveland-Curtze and her colleagues from Pennsylvania State University. The purplish-brown, blobby entity was "coaxed back to life with great patience", according to Penn State.
The thinking is that if life can survive millennia of terrible cold beneath a glacier here on Earth, it might do so on other planets - perhaps here in the solar system, under the Martian or possible lunar icecaps.
"These extremely cold environments are the best analogues of possible extraterrestrial habitats", says Loveland-Curtze.
"The exceptionally low temperatures can preserve cells and nucleic acids for even millions of years... studying these bacteria can provide insights into how cells can survive and even grow under extremely harsh conditions, such as temperatures down to -56˚C, little oxygen, low nutrients, high pressure and limited space."
Loveland-Curtze believes that study of H Glacei in the lab can be done safely, as it is a micro-organism, rather than a huge, ravening blobomination type of affair. In fact, it's uncommonly small and puny even for a bacterium - 10 to 50 times smaller even than the well-known E Coli, and correspondingly more capable of worming its way in where it isn't wanted.
Loveland-Curtze assures us that H Glacei isn't a deadly pathogen like E Coli, however. Though she does sound a note of caution:
"It can pass through a 0.2 micron filter, which is the filter pore size commonly used in sterilization of fluids in laboratories and hospitals," she warns.
"If there are other ultra-small bacteria that are pathogens, then they could be present in solutions presumed to be sterile. In a clear solution very tiny cells might grow but not create the density sufficient to make the solution cloudy".
In summary, then, we're looking at an ancient lifeform - albeit tiny - recently wakened by meddling scientists from its hundred-thousand-year sleep beneath the polar icecap. It's capable of surviving, perhaps, in the most hostile alien interplanetary environments known to man. It can evade mankind's toughest lab sterilisation precautions.
Meanwhile humanity may be nearing its first attempt at a manned mission to Mars. Coincidence? Or have the glacial supermicrobes, having long ago seeded Earth, merely been waiting for a vector species to arise and carry them onward to Mars for the next stage in their campaign of interplanetary conquest?
Loveland-Curtze and Co's scholarly paper can be read by those with the relevant subscription here. ®