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Billion-year-old water ends up tasting horrible

Though it’s not quite as deep as Lake Vostok, water recently discovered about 1.5 miles below-ground in Canada has intrigued scientists — in more ways than one. Of course, they were interested in meaningful chemical analysis, and in the search for the ancient history of life. They were interested in what the water could tell them about geology and climatology and taste and — wait, taste?

Yes, Dr. Barbara Sherwood Lollar took a small swig of the water she and her team dredged up, after having used the isotopes of natural gas found inside it to place its age at between one and 2.64 billion years old. Her review: yuck. Saltier than sea-water and the consistency of “light maple syrup,” this is one drink that only the most serious food adventurers should consider imbibing.

Even Lake Vostok, almost 3 times as deep as this water, could possibly contain life.

Even Lake Vostok, almost 3 times as deep as this water, could contain life.

The water has had plenty of time to soak of minerals from the surrounding rock, and as a result it is both thick and discolored, turning slightly orange when it comes in contact with oxygen. That’s mostly thanks to the large amounts of iron it contains, but it has had time to absorb any number of minerals. The water has been sealed off from the atmosphere, has neither evaporated or condensed, possibly since before the evolution of multi-cellularity.

The researchers have already proven that the water has the chemical capacity to support life, but they’ve yet to determine if it actually contains life. Dr. Lollar may or may not now be inhabited by billion-year-old proto-bacteria. It holds the same sorts of potential fuel molecules as the water found near deep-sea vents or in a South African mine, both of which sustain life without significant energy from the sun.

Water from the aforementioned Lake Vostok was, for a short time, thought to contain super-ancient life, but that finding was debunked by the study’s own authors. They discovered microbes in the water, but these were “merely” a new type of bacteria that had evolved to live off the kerosine-based antifreeze in use for decades as they drilled down to the underground lake.

It might seem insane the think that life could exist for about a third of the lifetime of the Earth in total isolation, but always remember the words of Ian Malcolm: Life will find a way. Lollar has yet to be devoured in any Crichton-esque fits of natural retribution, however. Her team hopes to unlock and publish at least some of the mysteries of this water within the year.

Now read: DNA points to new species of bacteria under Antarctic ice

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