British researchers believe they have found signs of ancient life residing in the Antarctic region. The organisms are estimated to be about 100,000 years old and live underneath the depths of the ice-covered Lake Hodgson, which is located on the Antarctic Peninsula.
According to Live Science, the team from the British Antarctic Survey, collaborating with the Universities of Northumbria and Edinburgh, discovered the signs of microscopic life in mud hauled up from the bottom of the lake. Its environment was described as "extreme" and "closed-off."
Lake Hodgson is 305 feet (93 meters) deep and is covered with 10 to 13 feet (three to four meters) of ice. Experts say the ice covering wasn't always this thin, but many millennia ago had ice 1,600 (500 meters) thick. Its size is described as being an estimated one mile wide and long.
Yet these ancient microbes, which are also depicted by experts as being diverse in nature, managed to survive these harsh conditions and environmental changes that occurred through the Ice Age.
But despite the substantial thinning of ice that has occurred over time, gaining access to those deep dark waters is still challenging, even in the modern day with the help of technology and the warming that has occurred in the region.
“What was surprising was the high biomass and diversity we found. 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,” said David Pearce, who was at BAS and is now at the University of Northumbria, reported Red Orbit.
“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," Pearce added.
Experts also found fossilized evidence and captured DNA of ancient micro-organisms. Some of which were linked to some of the oldest life ever found on Earth. Twenty-three percent of the findings have no known origin, meaning new species could be found.
Researchers are hoping this exciting discovery will help them understand how life can survive, and flourish, in extreme environmental conditions. These Antarctic conditions have been likened by experts to harsh atmospheric and environments located beyond Earth's realm.
This being considered, this current find may help unlock some of the secrets harbored by outer space. If scientists can gain insight in how organisms can thrive in these types of harsh conditions, with additional study, they may be able to draw more firm conclusions about potential life existing, or formerly existing, on other planets.
"We can start to build a picture of what limits life in extreme conditions and then start thinking about what might limit life on other planets," said Pearce, according to the Live Science report.
The full study has been published on Sept. 6, 2013 in the journal Diversity.