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Buried alive: Half of Earth's life may lie below land, sea

While astronomers scour the skies for signs of life in outer space, biologists are exploring an enormous living world buried below the surface of the Earth.

Scientists estimate that nearly half the living material on our planet is hidden in or beneath the ocean or in rocks, soil, tree roots, mines, oil wells, lakes and aquifers on the continents.

They call it the "subsurface biosphere," a dark world where the sun and stars don't shine. Some call it Earth's basement.

"Earth's habitable zone extends to depths of hundreds or thousands of meters," Katrina Edwards , a microbiologist at the University of Southern California , Los Angeles , told a December conference of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco . "The organisms that live in this environment may collectively have a mass equivalent to that of all of Earth's surface dwellers and may provide keys to solving major environmental, agricultural and industrial problems."
 
 

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