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Biotech Space Science

Revived Microbe May Hold Clues For ET Lifeforms 126

Posted by kdawson
from the calling-agent-smilla dept.
krou writes "Science Daily is reporting that a microbe, Herminiimonas glaciei, buried some 3 km under glacial ice in Greenland, and believed to have been frozen for some 120,000 years, has been brought back to life (abstract). The microbe, some ten to fifty times smaller than E. coli, was brought back over several months by slowly incubating it at gradually increasing temperatures. After 11.5 months, the microbe began to replicate. Scientists believe that it could help us understand how life may exist on other planets. Dr. Jennifer Loveland-Curtze, who headed up the team of scientists from Pennsylvania State University, said: 'These extremely cold environments are the best analogues of possible extraterrestrial habitats. ... [S]tudying these bacteria can provide insights into how cells can survive and even grow under extremely harsh conditions, such as temperatures down to -56C, little oxygen, low nutrients, high pressure and limited space.' She also added that it 'isn't a pathogen and is not harmful to humans, but it can pass through a 0.2 micron filter, which is the filter pore size commonly used in sterilization of fluids in laboratories and hospitals. If there are other ultra-small bacteria that are pathogens, then they could be present in solutions presumed to be sterile. In a clear solution very tiny cells might grow but not create the density sufficient to make the solution cloudy.'"
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Revived Microbe May Hold Clues For ET Lifeforms

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  • by oneirophrenos (1500619) on Tuesday June 16, 2009 @04:09PM (#28353701)

    I don't think your tin foil hat will help. Then again with a bug that can be brought back to life after 120000 years and slide through a 2 micron filter. Not much would help if it were to turned out to be dangerous.

    Pathogenity requires extensive adaptive mechanisms from a microbe, otherwise it isn't able to live in an organism with an immune system. Microbes that cause human illnesses have through countless generations developed traits that enable them to grip molecules on human cells, thrive in tissues, and resist the immune cells' attempts to destroy them. The odds of a 120,000-year-old bacteria turning out to be dangerous are minuscule.

  • by Red Flayer (890720) on Tuesday June 16, 2009 @04:15PM (#28353779) Journal

    The odds of a 120,000-year-old bacteria turning out to be dangerous are minuscule.

    The odds of any particular bacterium being dangerous are low.

    FWIW, 120,000 years is not that long ago from a biological perspective. Some pathogens can pass from pigs, rabbits, or other mammals to humans... it's not like mammals didn't exist 120 millenia years ago.

    The bigger tipoff is that the bacteria survived in ice. It's not likely that a bacterium adapted to live in ice will also be able to live (and thrive) in humans.

  • by oodaloop (1229816) on Tuesday June 16, 2009 @04:29PM (#28353943)
    You're playing with semantics. It no longer exhibited any of the characteristics of life. It had no metabolic function, no internal chemical reactions. It was dead. If you have a definition from a dictionary that defines dead to include someone who is irretreviably dead but not clinically dead, bring it forth. Otherwise, please realize such things are not so cut and dried.
  • Re:Welcome! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by icebike (68054) on Tuesday June 16, 2009 @04:36PM (#28354043)

    Well, humorous as "The Thing" reference was meant to be, one has to wonder how controlled the lab environment was when this thing was discovered passing thru filters.

    And the fact that a bug not seen in 102,000 years is known not to be a pathogen (when virtually NOTHING else is known about it) seems of little comfort.

    Its a bacteria. What viruses live inside it?

    What could Possibly Go Wrong here?

  • Re:Welcome! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Korin43 (881732) on Tuesday June 16, 2009 @04:44PM (#28354145) Homepage
    Not all bacteria cause us to get sick. In fact, the vast majority don't do anything (noticeable) to us. The fact that this is so old means our immune systems are probably more likely to be able to deal with it, and since they found it surviving in ice, I doubt our nice warm bodies are it's preferred climate.
  • Re:Welcome! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by icebike (68054) on Tuesday June 16, 2009 @05:15PM (#28354503)

    > There are thousands of different species in a gram of dirt,

    And we are exposed to these daily, and have built up immunity.

    > I think our odds are plenty safe in assuming this microbe won't hurt us.

    I hope you are right, because we have no exposure to this one, and no immunity.

  • Re:Welcome! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland AT yahoo DOT com> on Tuesday June 16, 2009 @05:20PM (#28354555) Homepage Journal

    The first thing that could go wrong is some yahoos on /. without on real knowledge or experiences start saying clueless speculation.

  • Re:Welcome! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by icebike (68054) on Tuesday June 16, 2009 @05:20PM (#28354557)

    > and since they found it surviving in ice, I doubt our nice warm bodies are it's preferred climate.

    It was dormant in Ice. After 11 months of gradual warming it started to reproduce. Who knows what its optimal temperature is.

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