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Researchers Find Life 800 Meters Down in Antarctic Subglacial Lake

Update Date: Aug 20, 2014 05:43 PM EDT

Antarctica is the coldest place on Earth which contains abundance of microscopic life. Now researchers have found a rich microbial ecosystem, persisting underneath the thick ice sheet, where sunlight hasn't been felt for million years. 

Researchers, in a new study reported that nearly 4,000 species of microbes inhabit Lake Whillans, lying beneath 2,625 feet (800 meters) of ice in West Antarctica. 

The organisms are first ever to be retrieved from a subglacial Antarctic lake.  

"We found not just that things are alive, but that there's an active ecosystem," said lead study author Brent Christner, a microbiologist at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, in the press release. "If you had to think up what would be the coolest scenario for an ecosystem in Antarctica, you couldn't make this up."

The continent incorporates around 400 lakes under its ice sheets. The findings offer new hopes to scientists for finding other hidden waterways carrying life. 

"This is a landmark paper for the polar sciences," said Martyn Tranter, a glaciologist at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, who was not involved in the study. "This paper is bound to stimulate further calls for subglacial lake research."

"We were surprised about the number of organisms," Christner added. "It's really not that different than the number of organisms in a lake on the surface."

The study has been published in the journal Nature

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