Researchers with the US Antarctic expedition team WISSARD who accessed the lake on 28 January report that they have found microbes in samples of lake water and sediment — but what kind of known or novel organisms those might be has yet to be determined.

If the reported preliminary findings hold up, it is the first time that life has been discovered in a subglacial lake.

How the bacteria produce and metabolize energy in an environment probably deprived of oxygen and nutrients is unclear. Team members speculate that the organisms might live on energy extracted from minerals in surrounding rocks — a survival strategy also used by certain bacteria found in gold mines.

Antarctica’s hidden lakes, sealed for probably millions of years, mark one of the utmost frontiers for life on Earth.  Many scientists think the lakes and what dwells in them will provide hints about which forms of life might exist on other planets or moons — for example on Jupiter’s moon Europa, which is thought to host a large sub-surface ocean.