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Microbes Alive After Being Frozen for 32,000 Years 527

Posted by samzenpus
from the stasis dept.
An anonymous reader writes "LiveScience is reporting on a new type of bacteria that after being frozen 32,000 years in the Arctic was ready to swim, eat and multiply instantly upon being thawed. Researchers are excited because they're the sort of microbes that might thrive in the ice sea announced on Mars yesterday. The instant revival abilities mean a future mission, if it found anything on Mars, could conceivably culture it and bring it back alive. Maybe NASA could market them as Martian Sea Monkeys."
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Microbes Alive After Being Frozen for 32,000 Years

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  • Hmm,... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Fjornir (516960) on Thursday February 24, 2005 @12:12AM (#11762767)
    Researchers are excited because they're the sort of microbes that might thrive in the ice sea announced on Mars yesterday Yeah, if the likely problems of salt in the martian see can be solved for these critters, maybe.
  • I, for one,... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bcrowell (177657) on Thursday February 24, 2005 @12:13AM (#11762775) Homepage
    welcome our new Martian bacterial overlords!

    But seriously, discovering unicellular life on Mars would be the greatest scientific discovery of the last 200 years, and if it's there, we could do it very cheaply with an uncrewed sample return mission, using present-day technology. It's too bad that the average taxpayer thinks germs from another planet just don't sound very interesting.

  • tardigrada (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tardigrades (841826) on Thursday February 24, 2005 @12:16AM (#11762799) Homepage
    tardigrades are way cooler http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tardigrada [wikipedia.org]
  • Honest Question (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mdiep (823946) on Thursday February 24, 2005 @12:20AM (#11762817) Homepage
    Really, I'm just wondering: how do they know the microbes were frozen for 32 000 years?

    --
    matt
    <insert sig here>

  • Martian Life... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kr3m3Puff (413047) * <me.kitsonkelly@com> on Thursday February 24, 2005 @12:24AM (#11762858) Homepage Journal
    I wonder though, which Star Trek and other series sort of gloss over, is that if Martian bacteria did develop, seperate from ourselves, we would probablly lack any auto immune response to be able to combat them. We are the product a millions and billions of years of fighting other life forms for our existence. It would be naive of us to assume that other lifeforms out there would fundementally eat us for lunch, and the reverse being true.

    On the other hand, maybe the right of universe is made up of right handed Amino Acids [nasa.gov] and we will be safe...
  • by DarkMantle (784415) on Thursday February 24, 2005 @12:37AM (#11763012) Homepage
    Maybe martian microbes will give us clues towards a cure for these and other illnesses. We haven't had any luck finding cures here.

    I'm also confident in my belief that we could find new minerals on mars, or other planets that could be put to good use as well.
  • Re:I, for one,... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by peccary (161168) on Thursday February 24, 2005 @12:37AM (#11763018)
    I don't think it would shake the theological world nearly as much as the discovery of intelligent life in the New World did. Christianity survived that one relatively unscathed, save for the invention of a new sect and a sci-fi TV series. I'm sure that it won't struggle too much with Martian microbes. After all, the Genesis account only says that God created life on Earth, it doesn't rule out the possibility that he might have created life somewhere else as well.

    Buddhism, Shinto, Taoism, and Wicca couldn't care less.

    Judaism and Islam share the same creation myth as Christianity, but their adherents don't seem to have quite so much invested in it, so I doubt they would blink.
  • by sourcery (87455) on Thursday February 24, 2005 @12:38AM (#11763033)
    ...the melting ice might liberate some long-dormant microbe for which we have no immunity.
  • Re:I, for one,... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Shambhu (198415) on Thursday February 24, 2005 @12:43AM (#11763085)
    I was wondering the same thing. How clean could you get a lander? You could carry the lander inside the craft proper, in a 'sealed' chamber. The chamber and the lander would have been as sterilized as possible. And then, if the lander was well-equiped enough, you could warm the sample up and study it right on the Martian surface.

    Is anyone here qualified to say how clean we could guarantee the lander and its chamber would be? Disregard the technical complexities of the rest of the mission.

  • Could you handle it? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by r00t (33219) on Thursday February 24, 2005 @12:44AM (#11763114) Journal
    Suppose that, in a rather obviously impressive way, God descended from Heaven. Suppose he drops by your place and performs a few miracles. Maybe then he beams you down to Hell for a 5-minute tour, either Star Trek style or via the Earth just opening up for a moment...

    I sure couldn't handle it, but I know people who could.

  • Still No Martians (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Witchblade (9771) on Thursday February 24, 2005 @12:45AM (#11763123) Homepage

    This is a great discovery, but only for what it tells us about what things were like 32,000 years ago. Everytime something like this is discovered everybody immediately jumps up and down about life on Mars. At this point it's pretty damn clear that life has found ways to survive everywhere on Earth from the highest clouds to somewhere around the planet's core. But it didn't start there. All of these discoveries are the harshest possible environments on Earth- but they're more like the best conditions on Mars. In fact each new discovery makes the odds of finding life on Mars less- if it's so easy to find life in such amazingly cold and barren conditions why have we still found nothing on Mars that isn't, at best, something that isn't easily made by simple geological (areological?) chemical processes? (But also, sometimes, are by-products of living things.)

    Then again no one's gotten a chance to really peak under any Martian rocks. Yet...

  • by creysoft (856713) on Thursday February 24, 2005 @12:47AM (#11763151)
    As a former fundie Creationist nut turned atheist, I can say that they WILL have an answer for it. Creationists tend to come up with very convincing arguments, and - for what it's worth - I'm still not satisfied with the Big Bang, or the theory of evolution, despite the fact that I've rejected creationism.

    How I would have viewed it is that the Bible never says that God ONLY created life on Earth. The Bible says the Christ *died for teh sins* of humans, which the Bible implies are only on Earth. In other words, until we find sentient life on other planets, the Christians won't really have to change their tune much.

    I want 19 years of my life back...
  • Re:tardigrada (Score:3, Interesting)

    by aussie_a (778472) on Thursday February 24, 2005 @12:48AM (#11763160) Journal
    How long can they survive in this natural "near suspended animation"?
  • Or, flip that... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Julian Morrison (5575) on Thursday February 24, 2005 @01:06AM (#11763295)
    "we would probablly lack any auto immune response to be able to combat them."

    It's easy enough to speculate on a vice versa: our modern earth bacteria are tough customers, honed by millennia of unending counter-immune war. Wimpy mars bacteria would cower in their meteorite, like preschoolers dumped in a rough biker bar.

    Yes, scientific types, I'm blowing smoke, too. Vote me +1, funny.
  • by DarkSarin (651985) on Thursday February 24, 2005 @01:08AM (#11763304) Homepage Journal
    erm.

    I have to agree with others here--it wouldn't bother me a bit (as a person who frequently gets labelled as a right-wing religious nut, but views himself as fairly tolerant and open about various ideas).

    To me, there are so many ways that this fits in with what the Bible posits as the creation of the world, and then what my personal beliefs are. To me, it matters VERY LITTLE how the earth was formed and life began. I believe that God is responsible for it, and I also believe that he works through an advanced understanding of physics that makes us look like the savages that are still curious about that hot red stuff, but haven't discovered that you can cook stuff with it.

    Would the discovery of microbes on Mars make any difference on religion? No. Would there be a few individuals who would either lose their faith, abandon their belief or otherwise be impacted? Almost certainly. A number of folks would also deny the discovery outright. They are the true nuts (listen to George Nory (sp?) for a sample).

    Personally, I say that if there is life elsewhere in the universe, God is also responsible for that, and he created it for a reason, whatever that is. The Bible, for all its worth as a behavioral guide, and wealth of prophecy, fairly stinks as a theological guide. The problem is that the authors mostly wrote for an audience that were familiar with the basic stuff (and therefore don't explain it very well, if at all), or needed correction (in the mind of the author) on specific points. Even direct quotes from Christ are generally of this nature. Many in his audience were well studied on the topics he addressed, and therefore his speech was centered on corrections and changes.

    The Old Testament is equally bad. From the very beginning there is an assumption that the reader understands what is meant by God. The most specific and basic areas of instruction are not, however, theological, but commandment. This is all in the Torah. The remainder of the OT is all about the different trials and tribulations of the Jews OR prophecies regarding the Messiah. While some of this does present a moralistic tale, the concept of a clear doctrine and theology has been largely omitted.

    Furthermore, the New Testament suffers a different problem. Certain basics are assumed, and then the point is made to convince people that the New way is better than the Old, or to clarify specific points of doctrine that had already been explained.

    In a practical sense, this results in there being a large number of views regarding the specifics of basic theology. This also means that there is very little (if any) information on what else God created, other than the general "everything". Personally, I think that we are VERY likely to meet intelligent life in other parts of the universe if we ever get there (I doubt it), and even if it took a radically different form, this would have little impact on my personal views.

    That is where, as you probably know, religion and science depart ways--science requires evidence. This is good. Religion requires faith. This can also be good. However, where many religious folks get into trouble is when they deny evidence. This is foolish.

    I would write more, but I am VERY tired.

    Good night
  • by Markus Registrada (642224) on Thursday February 24, 2005 @01:21AM (#11763395)
    My cousin, working for Raul Cano at CalPoly, worked with bacteria extracted from the crops of bees stuck in amber tens of millions of years ago. Of course everyone insisted the bacteria they got were just lab contamination, until they sequenced the critters and showed that they were ancestral to modern strains living in modern bees!

    Of course the bacteria were entirely dessicated, not just frozen, so it's a better model of the martian situation.

  • by a_d_white (458540) on Thursday February 24, 2005 @01:36AM (#11763524)

    The abstract [sgmjournals.org] of the research paper says that this 'new' bacteria, Carnobacterium pleistocenium, has a 99.8% similarity to Carnobacterium alterfunditum, as determined by gene sequence. I don't have access to this journal, so perhaps someone can fill in the details (how do these frozen bacteria differ from their modern day relatives and/or descendants?).

    Phylochronology [confex.com] is a new field that proposes studying molecular evolution on both spatial and temporal scales, using the tools of aDNA [plosbiology.org] and paleontology. Here, however, we have living samples with which to make a comparison. Thus, there's the potential to compare not just nucleotide sequence, but differences in morphology, development, and evolvability.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 24, 2005 @02:21AM (#11763784)
    This just appeared online in the past hour or so:
    Space Probe Finds Frozen Sea on Mars [swissinfo.org]
  • Microsoft? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by shutdown -p now (807394) on Thursday February 24, 2005 @03:50AM (#11764307) Journal
    Is it just me who reads "Microbes" as "Microsoft" (I guess it's because the latter is much more common on Slashdot than the former)? Read it that way twice already, actually. And it even makes sense!
  • Re:I, for one,... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by CmdrGravy (645153) on Thursday February 24, 2005 @04:59AM (#11764604) Homepage
    I think you will have to admit you are also an aethist before you go accusing other people of being close minded and prejudiced.

    The problem with Christianity and all other religious beliefs is that they have no basis in any kind of facts or evidence and are therefore perfectly capable of changing to suit any situation.

    We should listen to what Christian Theology has to say about life elsewhere with exactly the same weight as listening to the trilling of nightingales to tell us about life elsewhere since both are equally meaningless.
  • by FleaPlus (6935) on Thursday February 24, 2005 @06:02AM (#11764760) Journal
    Ooh, never mind, found it. Yay for google scholar:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd= Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=7538699&dopt=Citation [nih.gov]

    Revival and identification of bacterial spores in 25- to 40-million-year-old Dominican amber.

    Cano RJ, Borucki MK.


    A bacterial spore was revived, cultured, and identified from the abdominal contents of extinct bees preserved for 25 to 40 million years in buried Dominican amber. Rigorous surface decontamination of the amber and aseptic procedures were used during the recovery of the bacterium. Several lines of evidence indicated that the isolated bacterium was of ancient origin and not an extant contaminant. The characteristic enzymatic, biochemical, and 16S ribosomal DNA profiles indicated that the ancient bacterium is most closely related to extant Bacillus sphaericus.
  • by imipak (254310) on Thursday February 24, 2005 @07:32AM (#11765024) Journal
    This is no biggy. The BBC has a report today [bbc.co.uk] on microbes found 400m below the earth's surface inside solid rock that are at least sixteen million years old. That's right, the same actual cells, not the colony, individual bacteria cells... 'practically immortal', as the article says. The discoverers speculate that life may originally have evolved underfound as the surface was being regularly sterilised by impacts in the early epochs of earth's history. I leave the implications for life on Mars as an exercise for the reader ;)
  • by Moraelin (679338) on Thursday February 24, 2005 @07:42AM (#11765059) Journal
    Think the flu brought to America by the conquistadors/missionaries/colonists/etc. Something that for the europeans was just a flu, was deadlier to the Indians than the black plague back in Europe. It killed more of them than the conquistadors, wars, and inquisition combined.

    "The differenter the better" is good and fine, but at one point it becomes "different enough to not be detected". The immune system and its cells aren't a complete genetics lab, complete with a team of top-notch scientists, fully analyzing every cell and deciding if it belongs there or not. It reacts to certain patterns, but doesn't react at all to others. Things that they never had to detect, they might not. Or not reliably.

    Or to put it otherwise, that too is the result of evolution, rather than intelligent design. Being able to detect and solve problems that actually could kill the animal before it reproduced, were obviously favoured by natural selection. Having an immune system that reacts to viruses and bacteria you meet every day, now that's the kind of thing that natural selection is all about.

    On the other hand, having an immune system capable of reacting to fundamentally different stuff, that's never even been there in millions of years, that's something _not_ enforced by natural selection. You can be born, grow up, reproduce, and die, without ever needing to heal from a martian flu.

    In fact, au contraire: there's a good evolutionary reason to _not_ evolve an over-reacting immune system. See the auto-immune Type 1 diabetes where your pancreas is destroyed by your own immune system. Individuals with an immune system even more strict than that, got themselves out of the gene pool.

    And evolution can be even more perverse than that. There are a whole bunch of genetic diseases or other disfunctions, which didn't get filtered out by billions of years of selection, nor get defenses evolved against them, because they made no difference in reproduction rates. Either because:

    A) The're very rare recessive genes. Individuals could be "the fittest", even while carrying these genes. Or

    B) They kill you after the age where you've already reproduced. E.g., skin cancer. Stuff that could kill you in your thirties-fourties wasn't a priority to evolve defenses against, when those hominids lived less than half that.

    Basically all I'm saying is: I wouldn't be _that_ sure. There are good chances that, yes, the germs from mars would be the first against the wall. But as history shows, there are also non-zero chances that they won't.
  • Re:We're all dead!! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by MysteriousPreacher (702266) on Thursday February 24, 2005 @09:10AM (#11765395) Journal
    Fair point but absolute worse case, amazing odds against it, scenario.

    This thing might be able to survive in our current environment and might be compatible enough with us to cause us a problem and we might not be able to evolve resistance to it.

    That's a lot of mights.

    I agree that we shouldn't just bring a bucket of microbes back, dump them in the garden and see what happens, but if brought back and studied under careful conditions, there should be minimal risk. We already study some pretty nasty substances and organisms quite safely.
  • Re:I, for one,... (Score:0, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 24, 2005 @10:20AM (#11765908)
    You make the assumption that only the scriptural texts mention the man. No learned individual is going to deny the existence of Jesus, tho they may, and often will deny his claims to diety. Flavius Josephus and others speak of a man that can only be marked as Jesus of Nazareth. Seems you let your bigotry for religion cloud the truth.
  • by handy_vandal (606174) on Thursday February 24, 2005 @10:27AM (#11765957) Homepage Journal
    From the preface to The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn
    "In 1949 some friends and I came upon a noteworthy news item in Nature, a magazine of the Academy of Sciences. It reported in tiny type that in the course of excavations on the Kolyma River a subterranean ice lens had been discovered which was actually a frozen stream-and in it were found frozen specimens of prehistoric fauna some tens of thousands of years old. Whether fish or salamander, these were preserved in so fresh a state, the scientific correspondent reported, that those present immediately broke open the ice encasing the specimens and devoured them with relish on the spot."

    - Source [wnec.edu]
    -kgj
  • Re:We're all dead!! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by skids (119237) on Thursday February 24, 2005 @10:30AM (#11765981) Homepage
    This ain't no laughing matter. Environmental change is
    reviving old diseases [independent.co.uk] left and right.

  • Re:I, for one,... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 24, 2005 @01:31PM (#11767941)
    Uh, horse pockey! Yes Christianity has a stance on intelligent life on other planets. They may ignore the microbial life and what not but they don't believe in intelligent life on other planets. They would most likely call alien visitors demons. Read up if you dont believe. Try reading stuff from the christians who are heavy into the mystical christianity.

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