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Scientists Discover 100,000 Year Old Microbes in Antarctic Subglacial Lake

Update Date: Sep 11, 2013 02:53 PM EDT

Researchers have discovered signs of life in 20 different microbes in the first ever sediment sample to be analyzed from the bottom of an ice-covered lake in Antarctica.

The findings at Lake Hodgson, published in the journal Diversity, is part of an ongoing investigation into the potential ecosystems underneath Antarctica's subglacial lakes. The report notes direct sampling of these lakes in the interior of Antarctica continues to present major technological challenges. Therefore, scientists from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), and the Universities of Northumbria and Edinburgh have been searching around the peripheral margins of the ice sheet for subglacial lakes that are becoming exposed for the first time since they were buried more than 100,000 years ago.

Scientists expect to better understand how life may be able to exist in some of the "harshest" locations on Earth and other planets by studying microbes in extreme environments, according to Discovery News.

"This is the first time microbes have been identified living in the sediments of a subglacial Antarctic lake and indicates that life can exist and potentially thrive in environments we would consider too extreme," study author David Pearce said in a press statement.

"The fact these organisms have survived in such a unique environment could mean they have developed in unique ways which could lead to exciting discoveries for us. This is the early stage and we now need to do more work to further investigate these life forms."

The researchers focused on Lake Hodgson on the Antarctic Peninsula. At the end of the last ice age, Lake Hodgson was covered by about 1300 feet of ice. It is now considered to be an emerging subglacial lake, with a thin covering of just 10-13 feet of ice.

Researchers also discovered fossilized fragments of DNA from many different types of microbs which appear to have successfully adapted to Antarctica's extreme conditions, according to the report.

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