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Science

8 Million Year Old Bacteria Thaws, Lives 345

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the gonna-need-more-antibiotics dept.
Jamie found a New Scientist story about 8 million year old bacteria that scientists thawed out, and now it's alive. Also somehow they are sure that this is safe. The interesting bit is that since these samples came from ancient ice, it seems that the world will naturally be filled with these guys soon.
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8 Million Year Old Bacteria Thaws, Lives

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  • by daveschroeder (516195) * on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @11:05AM (#20142103)
    ...designed to get people up in arms.

    The summary ominously notes:

    [...] somehow they are sure that this is safe. The interesting bit is that since these samples came from ancient ice, it seems that the world will naturally be filled with these guys soon.

    ...filed, of course, under "gonna-need-more-antibiotics".

    Except the article says:

    This is nothing to worry about, say experts, because the process has been going on for billions of years and the bugs are unlikely to cause human disease.

    [...]

    Paul Falkowski of Rutgers University, who led the study, [...] does not believe this is cause for concern because marine bacteria and viruses are typically far less harmful to human health than, for instance, those found on land.

    Russell Vreeland of the Ancient Biomaterials Institute at West Chester University in Pennsylvania, US, agrees. "This has been happening probably for a long, long time. Ice freezes and melts, rocks sink and are eroded. Microbes have been involved with this process for almost 4 billion years," says Vreeland, who has resuscitated 250-million year-old bacteria found in salt crystals. "Earth acts as a gene bank for microbes."


    So, what's "new" here is that a researcher has actually intentionally taken frozen microbes from the oldest known ice and successfully resuscitated them in a laboratory setting. The Earth has been doing this on its own for billions of years.

    I'm sure this comments will be filled with the likes of:

    - By ignoring the undeniable truth that global warming is due to human behavior, we are toying with balances we can't possibly understand, and now may even be releasing ancient microbes into the environment whose dangers we don't yet know!

    - Even if the Earth has been doing this on its own, we are unnaturally accelerating it; therefore, the potential release of these microbes must be bad!

    - This may be a natural process, but humans may not have existed on Earth the last time this occurred, therefore we can't predict the possible harm to humanity!

    ...all tied in, of course, to the fact that we should be working on ways to "stop" climate change, predicated on the belief that any negative climate change is due exclusively to human activity beyond any shadow of scientific doubt, and that no climate change can ever be a net positive, especially when caused by human activity, when there are in truth far more factors involved, even if human activity is a large one. (Note: I am not saying global warming is "positive" or that human activity isn't a component; I am saying that it is inaccurate to cloak anything in self-serving absolutes.)

    The interesting intersection here is that such a transition may occur while humans are present on Earth. This is not necessarily a "good" or a "bad" thing...it just is. Humans have learned to manipulate and adapt to their environment for millennia, both on long and short term bases. Artificial change cannot intrinsically be defined as better or worse than natural change. Some of this change may have a negative impact on human existence on Earth; some may not.

    This does not mean that we should be raping the environment or ignoring any danger. But the single-mindedness of climate change activists is somewhat disturbing. They view climate change in a vacuum, separated from all other concerns, and that is simply a foolish and counterproductive position to take.

    Ever wonder why there are so many global warming deniers? It's because of the attitude taken by fanatic, self-righteous global warming alarmists. We'd be a lot better served by real discussions - which are, unfortunately, far too complex for most people on either side of the "political" global warming debate to understand - than one alarmist global warming story after another.

    The issues - social, economic, scientific, and so on - surrounding "climate change" deserve a far better treatment, even in slashdot comments, than berating Chevy Suburbans, Big Oil, and fat, lazy, greedy Americans.

  • serious article (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mgabrys_sf (951552) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @11:08AM (#20142149) Journal
    from a publication that plays host to dancing alien ads. WTF was that journal the fucking Weekly World News?

    Let me know if a mirror happens with a respectible pub.
  • Shrug. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <`moc.liamg' `ta' `yppupcinataS'> on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @11:09AM (#20142165) Journal
    If old bacteria can thaw out fine, then I'm sure it happens decently often naturally...Lot of ice melting in the world, and it's not all "new" ice...When ice melts, the water carves channels deep into the ice, and liberates more ice in the process (or refreezes, depending).

    Interesting that they're so robust, though I guess if the freezing doesn't kill it, there isn't anything else that will either.
  • by Control Group (105494) * on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @11:46AM (#20142701) Homepage

    If the cost is annoying big business, top polluters, and some people on web forums, I have no problem paying that price


    And, if the cost is making brkello start living a pre-industrial lifestyle, I have no problem paying that price.

    Which is to say - it's easy for you to be willing to have other people pay the price for change. You are claiming no moral high ground (or even ethically defensible ground) by making such a statement. Your dismissive claims about having no problem making people you've unilaterally deemed to be less than worthwhile bear the burdens is precisely the problem that was earlier being referred to. Oddly, people get defensive when you start talking about how they need to sacrifice. Perhaps if you were less flip about assigning costs, you'd run into fewer people who instinctively dig in their heels and try to fight you on everything you say.

    Before you start throwing accusations around, incidentally, I agree that climate change needs to be addressed. The climate is warming up, glacial ice is melting, the repercussions of unchecked climate change are likely to be catastrophic.
  • by TheMeuge (645043) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @12:09PM (#20143027)

    Furthermore, the bacteria in question is almost certainly safe because it evolved 4 mya, in the ocean, in the absence of humans
    On the other hand, you can also assume that our immune system isn't prepared to deal with this bacteria, which may be the more insidious problem in this case. Even if the bacteria WASN'T a human pathogen, doesn't mean it ISN'T going to become one, if given the opportunity.
    I don't think these bugs are the Andromeda Strain, but I'd be pretty careful to use sterile technique with them, at least until I put them into mice and saw what happened.
  • by UbuntuDupe (970646) * on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @12:34PM (#20143377) Journal
    You know what would also help with the problem? If people argued for action on global warming as if it weren't "just another excuse to get the laws we'd want anyway". Maybe if each offered solution didn't specifically target those environmentalists hate without regard to actual environmental damage?

    There's a very simple solution: carbon tax + apply proceeds (in transparent process) to carbon sinks and to legitimate warming harm-abatement.

    That allows everyone to adapt in the least inconvenient way for them. No bureaucracy to decide what uses you "really" need. No bizarre incentive structure that rewards people for being wasteful in the most efficient way possible.

    The "problems" with such a proposal are:

    -It doesn't require visible, vengeance-satisfying sacrifice.
    -Most conspicuous consumption would still happen because rich people would rather pay for the sink/abatement than quit driving the SUV.
    -It would snare the phonies who drive hybrids quite a lot, and not the hated SUV drivers who arrange their lives so that they don't have to drive very far.
    -Most adaptation people make wouldn't be visible and thus wouldn't show how much they "care".
    -Big evil corporations would figure out an efficient carbon sink method (since it's now profitable) and thus get a lot of money.
    -Any result that didn't equate with environmentalists' real goals would be derided as a failure of the system.

    So, the idea doesn't get a lot of play.
  • by Jaeph (710098) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @12:43PM (#20143521)
    I'm one of them thar "denier" types. More seriously, I'm one of those uneducated types who looked at the evidence in the 80s/90s, and found it lacking, but worthy of further study.

    I've watched the debate unfold over recent years, and just recently picked up a scientific american which tried to summarize the case at a layman's level. If I understood correctly:

    a) temperatures are rising. Lots of hard data to support this, and everything looks statistically significant.

    b) greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere are rising. There is more debate here, but mankind has most certainly contributed and the question is simply about narrowing down "how much".

    c) a & b are linked. This is shown recently to be true by ever more sophisticated computer models, which are serving as the basis for scientists elevating their statement to "highly likely" (that a & b are linked).

    The problem I have is that like many here on slashdot I do happen to know a thing or two about computers. To put it plainly, when your big evidence is a computer model, then I will continue to wait until the evidence is something more substantial. ....

    There is the other question of attitude; both sides seek to demonize the other said. "Fanatics", "radicals", etc.

    What I do see very clearly is that all suggested solutions seek to punish the united states while leaving some other areas of the world untouched. I pick "punish" deliberately; it's as if the US has been "bad" and now everyone wants their ounce of vengeance.

    So not only do I choose to wait, but my attitude is now skeptical - this seems like a typical "america bad" attitude on the side of the global warming proponents. I'll wait for a more reasoned attitude with better data to back them up.

    Finally, I recognize that all of this could be rendered moot by a continued rise in temperatures and the catastrophes that causes. But I've seen predictions of catastrophes all my life, and at this point I'm a bit jaded with all the "we're doomed" scenarios.

    -Jeff
  • by DigitalReverend (901909) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @01:29PM (#20144199)
    Karma be damned:

    "...all tied in, of course, to the fact that we should be working on ways to "stop" climate change, predicated on the belief that any negative climate change is due exclusively to human activity beyond any shadow of scientific doubt"

    Thank you for the good laugh this gave me. I will explain why.

    "...all tied in, of course, to the fact that we should be working on ways to "stop" climate change..."

    Ok, and while we are at it, let's stop continental drift, the dimming of the sun, and also stop the moon moving away from the earth.

    "predicated on the belief that any negative climate change is due exclusively to human activity beyond any shadow of scientific doubt"

    Using the phrases "predicated on the belief" and "beyond any shadow of ... doubt" in one sentence. BRAVO, you are a fundamentalist . Every evolutionist will tell creationists, beliefs have no place in science. So which is it, do you believe or do you know? You are almost as bad as an old time fire and brimstone preacher the difference being they say "send us money and be saved from hell", and you say "send us money and be saved from earth"

    ---

    Q: Are we experiencing a warming trend?
    A: Yes

    Q: Is it because of man?
    A: Maybe.

    Q: Could it just be a natural cycle?
    A: Maybe

    Q: Even if there is no evidence of a cycle like this before?
    A: Maybe. This could just the first occurrence of the cycle that happens once every 900 billion years which would explain why there is no evidence of it happening before?

    Q: What should we do?
    A: Well if it is caused by us, and we do nothing, we all die. If it not caused by us, and we do something and it doesn't fix things, we waste a ton of money, we all die. If we do something, and it fixes it, we spend tons of money, and oh yeah, we all die, just at a little slower rate.

  • by intx13 (808988) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @01:48PM (#20144459) Homepage
    If I recall, the physicists weren't that concerned, but the nearby townsfolk were, and asked for a study to be done. There were a number of possible "doomsday" situations considered... the most likely was the creation of a micro black hole that was somehow dense enough to avoid instant evaporation via Hawking radiation. The conclusions were a bit stronger than "quite unlikely" as well, with the odds of the extremely hypothetical situation required to yield the micro black hole also generating enough mass to overcome Hawking radiation being virtually nonexistant.

    The same argument was used then too, that cosmic rays of far higher energies interact in the atmosphere daily, with no apparent major effects.

    What I've always found interesting was the research performed for the original atomic bomb. Before a lot of modern quantum physics was known a bunch of guys were smashing particles together willy-nilly (well... perhaps not quite willy-nilly). Apparently they knew what they were doing, but I'm not sure I would have accepted "it happens every day in the sky" as valid reasoning when the *purpose* of the experiments was to yield a very big bomb :)
  • Not that easily (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Moraelin (679338) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @02:03PM (#20144671) Journal
    Yes and no, mostly no.

    AFAIK the immune system isn't set to kill known bacteria, it's set to kill any unknown cell. Your own cells have a "self" marker, meaning "it's mine". Anything identified as lacking this marker is instantly marked for termination with extreme prejudice.

    The bacteria that kill you have had millions of years to learn to cope with that big problem, precisely _because_ they had to deal with mammals all the time. Some fake the marker (with different degrees of success, usually not too well), some do the reverse peroxide kiss of death on any immune system cell trying to do it to them, some just kill you faster than your immune system can do much about it, etc. And, even so, most actually are actually pretty easily kept in check unless your immune system is already compromised.

    A bacterium which is so completely foreign that it never had to live in a mammal, well, won't live too long in there. There are layers upon layers upon layers of defenses to which they have no answer whatsoever.

    Now with _viruses_ it's exactly the other way around, as the immune system pretty much has to figure out an antibody and remember it. So a new one _can_ fuck you up badly. That's why flu and smallpox nearly wiped out the american indians: those were viruses.

    Of course, even then the assumption is that it knows how to modify your DNA code. Flu and smallpox already had to deal with the Europeans, so they were already well tuned for humans. A completely alien virus (a la Andromeda Strain), while it would probably get past your immune system easily, it also probably wouldn't even know where to start to reprogram your cells.

"The eleventh commandment was `Thou Shalt Compute' or `Thou Shalt Not Compute' -- I forget which." -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982

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