Scientists have discovered signs of life in a massive cave in Italy that is located about 1300 feet below the ground. The discovery may help detect life on other planets. The identification was made by researchers from the Pennsylvania State University while exploring the microbiology and geochemistry of the Frasassi Caves in central Italy.
1. The scientists found variations in the isotopic content of atoms in the mineral gypsum, which is a weathering product of the cave’s formation.
2. This isotopic variation, in combination with other data, indicates that life played an active role in producing the gypsum.
3. Microbes or microorganisms are known to speed up chemical reactions. For example, minerals like the gypsum found in the cave form much more quickly in the presence of microbes.
4. The study stated that not all gypsum is formed by microbes, but gypsum formed by microbes will have a different ratio of isotopes in the atoms.
The research team collected samples of gypsum from the cave walls that were likely to have come in contact with fluids or moving air and used a mass spectrometer to study the isotopic ratio of the gypsum. The structure of the deep Frasassi Caves offers a real-world laboratory setting for identifying current and remnant biosignatures. As microbes speed up chemical changes, Macalady said that the presence of isotopic biosignatures could be used to spot the involvement of life forms in forming other minerals, not just those appearing in the Frasassi Caves.