An ancient bacteria was found living in the dark depths of the Antarctic ice. The discovery could serve to advance knowledge of how life may survive on other planets or moons.
The bacteria also gives a glimpse into the vast ecosystem living in underground lakes in Antarctica.
Hundreds of lakes exist underneath the massive ice sheet near the South Pole. Scientists have believed for years that the network of hundreds of lakes could harbor life, reports The New York Times.
But the discovery of ancient bacteria is the first confirmation they have received. John C. Priscu of Montana State University, who helped lead the scientific expedition, stated:
“It transforms the way we view the Antarctic continent.”
The expedition scientists recovered water and sediment samples from the 23-square-mile, five-foot deep Lake Whillans after they drilled through a half-mile of ice. They were able to see cells in the samples under a microscope. Chemical tests also showed that the cells were alive.
National Geographic notes that the team broke through to the lake on January 28 and were given two days of 24-hour sunlight to bring up samples before their borehole started to close. They reamed the hole once more and were granted two more days.
The first task the scientists will undergo is making sure the new-found microbes were not introduced while the scientists drilled the hole. Priscu added:
“I believe it is safe to say that subglacial lake beneath the Whillans Ice Stream supports a microbial assemblage that is growing within this dark and cold habitat … [DNA sequencing in the US] will tell us who they are and, together with other experiments, tell us how they make a living.”
The US team is one of three currently digging into the massive system of lakes and streams beneath the Antarctic ice sheet. Their findings may also help show how life on other planets or moons could survive in the absence of carbon.
[Image via ShutterStock]