34,000-year-old bacteria discovered...and it’s still alive
2011 01 15

By Andrea Mustain | CSMonitor.com


It’s a tale that has all the trappings of a cult 1960s sci-fi movie: Scientists bring back ancient salt crystals, dug up from deep below Death Valley for climate research. The sparkling crystals are carefully packed away until, years later, a young, unknown researcher takes a second look at the 34,000-year-old crystals and discovers, trapped inside, something strange. Something … alive.

Thankfully this story doesn’t end with the destruction of the human race, but with a satisfied scientist finishing his Ph.D.

"It was actually a very big surprise to me," said Brian Schubert, who discovered ancient bacteria living within tiny, fluid-filled chambers inside the salt crystals.

Salt crystals grow very quickly, imprisoning whatever happens to be floating — or living — nearby inside tiny bubbles just a few microns across, akin to naturally made, miniature snow-globes.

"It’s permanently sealed inside the salt, like little time capsules," said Tim Lowenstein, a professor in the geology department at Binghamton University and Schubert’s advisor at the time.

Lowenstein said new research indicates this process occurs in modern saline lakes, further backing up Schubert’s astounding discovery, which was first revealed about a year ago. The new findings, along with details of Schubert’s work, are published in the January 2011 edition of GSA Today, the publication of the Geological Society of America.

Schubert, now an assistant researcher at the University of Hawaii, said the bacteria — a salt-loving sort still found on Earth today — were shrunken and small, and suspended in a kind of hibernation state.

"They’re alive, but they’re not using any energy to swim around, they’re not reproducing," Schubert told OurAmazingPlanet. "They’re not doing anything at all except maintaining themselves."

The key to the microbes’ millennia-long survival may be their fellow captives — algae, of a group called Dunaliella.

"The most exciting part to me was when we were able to identify the Dunaliella cells in there," Schubert said, "because there were hints that could be a food source."

With the discovery of a potential energy source trapped alongside the bacteria, it has begun to emerge that, like an outlandish Dr. Seuss invention (hello, Who-ville), these tiny chambers could house entire, microscopic ecosystems.

Other elderly bacteria?

Schubert and Lowenstein are not the first to uncover organisms that are astonishingly long-lived. About a decade ago, there were claims of discoveries of 250-million-year-old bacteria. The results weren’t reproduced, and remain controversial.

Schubert, however, was able to reproduce his results. Not only did he grow the same organisms again in his own lab, he sent crystals to another lab, which then got the same results.

"So this wasn’t something that was just a contaminant from our lab," Schubert said.

Survival strategy

The next step for researchers is to figure out how the microbes, suspended in a starvation-survival mode for so many thousands of years, managed to stay viable.

"We’re not sure what’s going on," Lowenstein said. "They need to be able to repair DNA, because DNA degrades with time."

Schubert said the microbes took about two-and-a-half months to "wake up" out of their survival state before they started to reproduce, behavior that has been previously documented in bacteria, and a strategy that certainly makes sense.

"It’s 34,000 years old and it has a kid," Schubert said. And ironically, once that happens, the new bacteria are, of course, entirely modern.

Of the 900 crystal samples Schubert tested, only five produced living bacteria. However, Schubert said, microbes are picky. Most organisms can’t be cultured in the lab, so there could be many living microbes that just didn’t like their new home enough to reproduce.

Still, wasn’t it exciting to discover what could be one of the oldest living organisms on the planet?

"It worked out very well," Schubert said.


Article from: csmonitor.com



Related Articles
Strangest Places Where Life is Found
The Harshest Environments on Earth
Steel-munching bacteria are devouring the Titanic, say scientists
NASA: Clue to alien biology after scientists discover mysterious bacteria that can live on arsenic
Problem-solving bacteria crack sudoku
Glue made from genetically modified bacteria can knit cracks in concrete
Bacteria Can Stand-Up and "Walk"
Bacteria and Phytoplankton Affect the Weather
Computer-Controlled Bacteria Build a Miniature Pyramid
Beautiful: Bioluminescent Organisms Light Up Russian Caves
Pentagon Looks to Breed Immortal ‘Synthetic Organisms,’ (Molecular Kill-Switch Included)
Is Homosexuality an Evolutionary Step Towards the Superorganism?


Latest News from our Front Page

Water rationing hits California: limit of 50 gallons per person per day or face fines of $500
2014 09 29
Millions of Californians are about to be hit with strict water rationing -- daily "allocation" numbers that represent the maximum amount of water you’re allowed to use for any purpose. Households that exceed the allocation limit will face stiff fines of hundreds of dollars per violation. "In July, the State Water Resources Control Board passed stage one emergency regulations, giving powers ...
Much of Earth’s Water is Older than the Sun
2014 09 29
Much of the water on Earth and elsewhere in the solar system likely predates the birth of the sun, a new study reports. The finding suggests that water is commonly incorporated into newly forming planets throughout the Milky Way galaxy and beyond, researchers said — good news for anyone hoping that Earth isn’t the only world to host life. “The implications of ...
Did the Vikings Get a Bum Rap?
2014 09 29
A Yale historian wants us to rethink the terrible tales about the Norse. This illustration shows the stereotype of Viking marauders wreaking mayhem, even on clergy. The scene depicts the monastery at Clonmacnoise, Ireland. The Vikings gave no quarter when they stormed the city of Nantes, in what is now western France, in June 843—not even to the monks barricaded in the ...
David Cameron Says Non-Violent Conspiracy Theorists Are Just As Dangerous As ISIS
2014 09 29
David Cameron told the U.N. that "non-violent extremism" is just as dangerous as terrorism and must be eradicated using all means at the government’s disposal. He references 9/11 and 7/7 Truthers as examples of the type of extremism that must be dealt in a similar fashion to ISIS. If you thought Obama’s War is Peace speech to the U.N. was creepy, ...
NY Times: Europe’s Anti-Semitism Comes Out of the Shadows
2014 09 28
NY Times Whines about European "Anti-Semitism" In the wake of the conflict in Gaza, three communities became flash points of violence and began contending with hatred they thought was buried in the past. Read the NY Times hit piece on Europe here Below is a rebuttal from Mike King’s The Anti-New York Times at tomatobubble.com: Strike up the violins and break out the barf ...
More News »