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Mysterious bacterium found in Antarctic lake

MOSCOW -- A new form of microbial life has been found in water samples from a giant freshwater lake hidden under miles of Antarctic ice, Russian scientists said yesterday.

Sergei Bulat and Valery Lukin said the "unidentified and unclassified" bacterium has no relation to any existing bacterial types. They acknowledged that extensive research of the microbe that was sealed under the ice for millions of years will be necessary to determine its characteristics.

Samples of water from Lake Vostok from earlier this year are expected to be delivered to St. Petersburg in May by ship.

The Russian team reached the surface of the subglacial lake in February 2012 after more than two decades of drilling, an achievement hailed by scientists around the world. They touched the lake water Sunday at a depth of 12,366 feet, about 800 miles east of the South Pole.

Scientists hope the lake might allow a glimpse into microbial life-forms that existed before the Ice Age and survived in the lake's dark depths, despite high pressure and constant cold, conditions similar to those also believed to be under the ice crust on Mars, Jupiter's moon Europa and Saturn's moon Enceladus.

Lake Vostok, 160 miles by 30 miles, is similar in size to Lake Ontario. It is kept from freezing by the miles-thick crust of ice that acts like a blanket, keeping in heat generated by geothermal energy underneath. -- AP

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