DNA of brine samples found in an Alaskan cryopeg were recently displayed at a Bellevue AbSciCon meeting. While unique, the lifeforms are said to be similar to bacteria discovered in sea ice and in glacial saltwater.

Deep underneath the icy Alaskan tundra, researchers from the University of Washington have discovered an abundance of microbes and living organisms which have been around for up to 50,000 years.

According to the researchers, the 'cryopegs', or water which is so salty that the liquid does not freeze even under vey low temperatures, have been around since at least the Ice Age.

The stagnant and untouched environment has given life to a profusion of ancient microscopic organisms (and viruses) which thrive in the otherwise uninhabitable conditions

The most common organism found is a 'Marinobacteria', according to a press release from the researchers.

The researchers were "startled" by how dense the population of microbes was. Technically, it should not be possible as "140 parts per thousand - 14 percent - is a lot of salt."

"In canned goods, that would stop microbes from doing anything." said study author and marine microbiologist Jody Deming.


New Techniques

While experts are not entirely sure how cryopegs form, some scientists claim that they may be former coastal lagoons left behind as the ocean receded during the last ice age.

The dissipated seabed was then likely replaced with permafrost, geologically isolating the water and its inhabitants below a layer of frozen soil for 50,000 years.

The University of Washington team has taken a new approach to accessing the microbes by identifying subsurface pockets where sediment meets salty water.

The process of discovering the cryopegs was described as "exhilarating" by Deming, as the researchers had to climb down a 12 ft ladder from the surface and carefully manoeuvre along a permafrost tunnel beneath the ice.

The pockets of permanent frost and sub-zero temperatures which allow microorganisms to thrive make them the perfect likeness to conditions on other planets and moons.

The "primitive ocean" which once existed on Mars according to researchers could potentially have receded in a similar way to oceans on Earth, which could mean that bacteria is trapped under the surface of Mars.

"It's not impossible to expect life could last for billions of years in the Martian subsurface," said oceanographer and University of Washington Researcher Zachary Cooper.

Scientists are currently interested in the microbes as their ability to thrive may offer us a glimpse into how extraterrestrial life might function.