Newly discovered caves in Antarctica could house unknown life

Newly discovered caves in Antarctica could be home to unknown plant and animal species.

Australian scientists from Australian National University were investigating ice caves under Antarctica's glaciers when they found caves warm enough to support plant and animal life, the university said in a statement.

Steam from Mount Erebus, an active volcano on Ross Island in Antarctica, has created an extensive cave system under Antarctica's icy surface. Lead researcher, Dr. Ceridwen Fraser, from the ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society said analysis of soil samples from these caves revealed traces of DNA from plants and small animals.

"It can be really warm inside the caves -- up to 25 degrees Celsius [77 degrees Fahrenheit] in some caves. You could wear a t-shirt in there and be pretty comfortable. There's light near the cave mouths, and light filters deeper into some caves where the overlying ice is thin," Fraser said in the statement.

Most of the DNA was similar to moss, algae and invertebrates found in Antarctica, but some of it could not be identified.

"The results from this study give us a tantalising glimpse of what might live beneath the ice in Antarctica -- there might even be new species of animals and plants," Fraser added.

Professor Laurie Connell, a co-researcher from the University of Maine, said further research is needed to conclusively prove if new plants and animals live in the caves. The next steps, she says, are to search the caves for living organisms, and "if they exist, it opens the door to an exciting new world," she said.

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