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Green "Alien Slime" Discovered in Underground Australian Caves

Update Date: Mar 07, 2013 05:04 PM EST

Researchers have found a bizarre alien "slime" deep in the water-filled underground caves of Australia's Nullarbor Plain.

The green slime represents an "unknown" form of life in the deep cave, according to researchers

Cave divers reported finding unique "curtains" of biological material in the Australian's Nullarbor Plain.  Researchers said the mysterious "Alien Slime", now known as the Nullarbor cave slimes, is extremely unusual and unlike anything ever found on planet Earth.

Researchers Sasha Tetu, Katy Breakwell, Liam Elbourne, Andrew Holmes, Michael Gillings and Ian Paulsen from Macquarie University, are studying how this strange ecosystem works.

Researchers published their bizarre discovery in the journal of the International Society for Microbial Ecology, to show that an unusual combination of microbes thrive in the underground system of the Weebubbie caves.

"Earlier studies on the community suggested that there was an unusual chemistry going on in the caves, but we didn't know how the microbes were making a living in the cave environment," lead investigator Professor Ian Paulsen of Macquarie University said in a statement.

After examining the cave slime using next-generation sequencing of environmental DNA and scanning electron microscopy, researchers detected a dominant group of organisms in cave slimes known as the Thaumarchaeota.  Researchers said that this mysterious community of microbes thrives in total darkness, and might have marine origins.

It is believed that the microbes came with the seawater that regularly flooded the cave millions of years ago. 

"We know that the Nullarbor Plain's karst system arose from the sea in the Middle Miocene period and so this may be a clue as to where the Weebubbie Thaumarchaeota came from," Paulsen explained.

After analyzing the organisms that make up the Weebubbie cave slime community, researchers found that these life forms live in a very usual way- by oxidizing ammonia in the salty cave water.  These organisms also have also evolved to thrive in a way that is completely independent of sunlight and ecosystems on the surface.

"It just goes to show that life in the dark recesses of the planet comes in many strange forms, many of which are still unknown," Paulsen concluded.

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