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October 15, 2012 | by  | in Opinion |
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Science: What’s It Up To?

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Scientists have recently discovered a new species of worm, nicknamed ‘the devil worm’ but with an even better scientific name, Halicephalobus mephisto—Diablo fans know what I’m talking about. But why the demonic names you may ask? Well it’s probably due to the fact that this worm was found living at the bottom of a South African gold mine, a regular extremophile. The team wasn’t sure if the worms had been tracked in by miners or had come out of the rock. To find out, this guy Gaetan Borgonie , spent a year boring deep into mines for veins of water, retrieving samples and filtering them for water- dwelling nematodes. He scoured a total 31,582 litres until he finally found the worm in several deep-rock samples, at depths between 0.9 – 3.6 km. What’s more, he found evidence the worms have been there for thousands of years. Isotope dating of the water housing the worm placed it to between 3,000 and 12,000 years ago—indicating the animals had evolved to survive the crushing pressure and high heat of the depths.

They hope the new devil worm will inspire others to search for complex life in the most extreme places—both on Earth and elsewhere. People usually think only bacteria could exist below the surface of a planet like Mars. This discovery says, “woah there cowboy, you best be checkin’ your facts.” Discussions about extremophiles and their potential has lead to theories about origins of life on previously uninhabited planets.

Panspermia is the idea that primitive life forms could travel between planets and survive the journey. For some, panspermia represents a possible origin of life on Earth, as microbes from other planets could have arrived here and acted as the forebears of all subsequent developing species. The concept is often ridiculed as unrealistic and speculative, but several recent studies have lent panspermia more credibility.

One study found that some tardigrades (microscopic eight-legged invertebrates) were able to survive after spending 10 days exposed to space and solar radiation. Between various other research efforts, scientists have found that organisms classified as bacteria, lichens and invertebrate animals have survived at least some time spent in the vacuum of space. Some protection from radiation, such as being on a rock, seems to help organisms survive the journey. But wherever they land, these space travellers need an environment that will allow them to live and grow. An interesting idea, which was the basis of the terrible Sean William Scott film, Evolution. The earth was going to be destroyed by a giant 4 legged walking slug thing, but luckily they saved the day with 1000s of litres of shampoo shot from a fire engine.

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