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June 5, 2011
A team of scientists has detected for the first time in a mine in South Africa, multicellular organisms in the deeper layers of the terrestrial biosphere. The study, published in the latest issue of the journal Nature, provides a new perspective on the richness and diversity of life on the planet's surface.
So far, however, scientists thought that multicellular creatures could not live in this environment due to high temperatures, lack of oxygen and space that occur at great depths. The team geologist from Princeton University (USA) Tullis Onstott has revealed several nematode worms, including a hitherto unknown species (called "Halicephalobus mephisto"), between 0.9 and 3.6 miles below the surface, in a crevice formed by water inside a mine.
These creatures, which are about half a millimeter, at high temperatures, so they reproduce asexually and feed mainly on bacteria.
The Carbon-14 tests indicate that the crack in the nematodes were found was formed between 3,000 and 12,000 years. The research results indicate that the ecosystems on Earth's surface are more complex than what was accepted until now, and can lead to significant implications in the search for life on other planets.