While exploring the wonders of the Antarctic continent, scientists investigated a series of caves located beneath the frozen landscape, close to Mt Erebus, an active volcano on Ross Island in Antarctica, where they uncovered traces of completely unknown DNA.
The Antarctic continent stretches across a staggering 14 million square kilometers and, with the exception of 2 percent of the territory, is covered by an ice sheet approximately 1.9 km thick, on average.
Given these characteristics, the recent discovery of unknown types of life has baffled the international scientific community.
The team of scientists, composed of representatives from several countries managed to sequence the DNA of several organisms that are absolutely unknown to science. This type of life was located in underground caves, located in close proximity to the most active austral volcano in the world, Mount Erebus, located on Ross Island in Antarctica.
This type of life was located in underground caves, found in close proximity to the most active austral volcano in the world, Mount Erebus, located on Ross Island in Antarctica.
According to Ceridwen Fraser of the National University of Australia, further research is likely to reveal new natural species, since in Antarctica plants and animals may exist in subterranean caves where “it can be very hot”, with temperatures of up to 25 degrees Celsius. “The results from this study give us a tantalizing glimpse of what might live beneath the ice in Antarctica—there might even be new species of animals and plants,” she said.
“The next step is to go and have a really good look and see if we can find communities living beneath the ice in Antarctica.”
In addition to a suitable temperature, the scientists assure that there is another fundamental factor for life, in the Antarctic cave system: “in some caves the light is filtered deeper when the ice sheet is thin”, which could mean that there are “whole communities of plants and animals that we do not know of and live deep under the ice.”
Furthermore, researchers note in their paper how the number of different plants and organism identified through DA sampling are most likely only a small part of the total biological community that may inhabit the underground caves on the Antarctic continent.
Experts note that despite the fact that great progress has been made in understanding Antarctic biodiversity, scientists still know very “little about life in the continent’s subglacial cave systems, which may harbor diverse and complex communities”.
“Our results highlight the importance of investigating these cave systems in greater detail—despite the field challenges associated with such an endeavor – to confirm the presence of living macrobiota,” researchers wrote in their study.
The scientific study was published in the journal Polar Biology.