Vostok, bacteria and personal agendas in Science: A sad tale…


A Russian scientist over the weekend dismissed the claims of his colleagues that water pulled from a lake buried for millions of years beneath Antarctica contained a strange new form of microbial life. But on Monday, those colleagues insisted that the bacterium they have discovered doesn’t fall into any known categories. The tiny creature in question came from a sample of water pulled by a team of Russian scientists from lake Vostok in February, 2012, after more than two decades of drilling. (1, 2)

lake vostok cross section

“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,” Sergei Bulat (a researcher at the Laboratory of Eukaryote Genetics at the St. Petersburg Nuclear Physics Institute) said.

But on Saturday, Vladimir Korolyov (Eukaryote genetics laboratory head) told the Interfax news agency that they did not find any life forms — just contaminants that remained from the drilling process. “We found certain specimen, although not many, but all of them belonged to contaminants (microorganisms from the bore-hole kerosene, human bodies or the lab). There was one strain of bacteria which we did not find in drilling liquid, but the bacteria could in principal use kerosene as an energy source,” Korolyov said. “That is why we can’t say that a previously-unknown bacteria was found,” he added.

Russia  Antarctic Lake

I am really lost here.

READ ALSO:  Life. Evolution. Quantum algorithms. A veil of obscurity disguised as light…

Korolyov does not refute the claim that the bacteria DNA found has not been identified. So what is that “all of them belonged to contaminants” claim? And how can you know that the bacteria in the drilling liquid did not enter the liquid FROM the lake? And even if it didn’t, then we have STILL discovered a new form of life (even not in the lake, but in the drilling liquid). And how does a denial of this magnitude stand on “could”?

Even if I do not know what happened (as is the case with the scientists there too), I understand one sad thing: That politics play a MAJOR role in modern science. Don’t be surprised if after 100 years we learn that this is one more case of the head of a lab being hostile to one of his colleagues just because he wants to deny him of a discovery…

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  1. viiinnccee

    Reblogged this on vcasumpang and commented:
    A new category in microbial life is an incredible discovery! That just means that we have so much more to discover on Earth.

    1. skakos

      Thanks for that. Much appreciate it.

  2. The Wisdom of Life

    If you are suggesting that resistance to valid ideas over the years is partly driven by such things as emotional attachments to traditions, reputations and livelihoods that are powered by older paradigms in thought, plain old confirmation bias, petty rivalries, hero worship, greed and sometimes outright intellectual laziness, then; to use the twisted parlance of the debunker with a side order of logical fallacy you outlined in your story: “That would be the first time that ever happened again and again”

    1. skakos


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