Deep beneath the Atlantic Ocean between Greenland and Norway, scientists have found microorganisms that appear to be a missing link connecting the simple cells that first populated Earth to the complex cellular life that emerged roughly 2 billion years ago.

The researchers said on Wednesday that a group of microorganisms called Lokiarchaeota, or Loki for short, were retrieved from the inhospitable, frigid seabed about 1.5 miles (2.35 km) under the ocean surface not too far from a hydrothermal vent system called Loki's Castle, named after a Norse mythological figure.

The discovery provides insight into how the complex cells called eukaryotes — the building blocks for fungi, plants and animals — evolved from simple microbes, they said.