London: Scientists have claimed to have found the first tantalising signs of life to be detected in waters from a subglacial lake, half a mile beneath the snowy wastes of the Antarctic.
Water retrieved from sub-glacial Lake Whillans contains tiny cells which glowed green in response to DNA-sensitive dye applied in preliminary tests, the Daily Mail reported.
While researchers need to carry out further time-consuming tests to see whether the cells are actually still alive, it offers the possibility that there could be as yet unknown life lurking beneath the ice.
The findings come a fortnight after a team of scientist adventurers made the perilous 1,000 mile journey from the US-controlled McMurdo Station to the location of Lake Whillans.
The researchers from the US-led Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling project spent weeks boring down 2,600ft through the thick ice to make a hole big enough to collect samples.
The water sample was hurried into the team’s mobile lab, where some was squirted into bottles containing a growth medium which will culture whatever bacteria it contains.
It may be weeks or months before scientists know for certain whether what they have found are new discoveries or merely examples of microbes that exist elsewhere on Earth.
Researchers said that it is likely that the microbes probably eat rocks in the lake. They also said that despite being sealed under 2,600ft of ice, they probably have a steady oxygen supply from ice melting around the lake.
“When you melt ice, you’re liberating the air bubbles [trapped in that ice],” WISSARD team member Mark Skidmore told Discover magazine.
“That’s 20 percent oxygen. It’s being supplied to the bed of the glacier,” he said.
Discovery of life in this isolated environment will help scientists understand the limits of life on Earth and inform the search for life on other planets.