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While exploring the Antarctic continent, researchers examined a group of caves located beneath the frozen landscape, near Mt. Erebus, an active volcano on Ross Island in Antarctica, where they revealed traces of entirely unknown DNA.
Experts are very excited: “Some of the DNA evidence that we found implies that maybe there are things living in these caves that we know nothing about. There could even be new species.”
Researchers exploring Antarctica have made a shocking discovery as they’ve stumbled across extensive cave systems warmed by a nearby volcano.
Experts say that inside the caves a secret ecosystem of plants and animals supported by the warmth of an active volcano may thrive.
Furthermore, forensic analysis of soil samples from these caves have revealed intriguing DNA traces of algae, mosses, and small animals:
“It can be extremely hot inside the caves – even up to 25 degrees Celsius in some caves.
“You could wear a T-shirt in there and be pretty comfortable,” said lead researcher Ceridwen Fraser from the Australian National University. “There’s light near the cave mouths, and light filters deeper into some caves where the overlying ice is thin.”
Fraser explained that most of the DNA found in the caves near or beneath Mount Erebus was similar to DNA of plants and animals including mosses, algae, and invertebrates found elsewhere in Antarctica, but not all sequences could be completely identified, which means that scientists may have stumbled across completely unknown species.
The cave system is believed to have formed after of steam traveling through their passages.
“The results of this study give us a tempting preview of what could live under the ice in Antarctica, there might even be new species of animals and plants,” he added.
However, Professor Laurie Connell, a co-investigator at the University of Maine, believes that these intriguing traces of DNA do not conclusively prove that plants and animals are living in the caves.
“The next steps will be to take a closer look at the caves and the search for living organisms. If they do exist, it opens the door to a new exciting world, “she said.
Another co-investigator, Craig Cary of the University of Waikato in New Zealand, recalled that previous research had found that various bacterial and fungal communities lived in Antarctica’s volcanic caves.
Researchers also point out that it is not known how many cave systems exist around Antarctica’s volcanoes, or how interconnected they are as these subglacial environments may be difficult to identify, reach or explore.
The study was published in the international journal Polar Biology.