Confirming that any possible signature of life is not a contaminant is complicated, to say the least.
There's a strict protocol the Americans strive to follow in Antarctica, said Doran, who is familiar with the practices of the U.S. Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling project (WISSARD) team that worked this year at Antarctica's Lake Whillans.
Doran could not speak specifically to the Russians, but said the American work demonstrates a good methodology.
In WISSARD's case, it involves sterilizing all the equipment with hydrogen peroxide gel or a similar product, then hermetically sealing them in bags for shipment. Scientists on-site sterilize the water in the drill system through several steps that include filters and life-killing ultraviolet radiation.
As the drill progresses through the ice, the scientists monitor cell counts to make sure there are no unexplained jumps.
To the WISSARD announcement, Doran said, "I understand how it happened. There are embedded reporters in the field with them. They are sitting around the dinner table together, and drinking Scotch together, and the reporters are right there [when scientists say] 'Our cell counts are way up when we've gone into the lake water.'"
"Of course that gets reported, but without the peer review literature, it's still a violation of how the standard things are done," Doran said.
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