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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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  • Welcome! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Captain Kirk (148843) on Tuesday June 16, 2009 @04:59PM (#28353537) Homepage Journal

    I for one welcome our new tiny frigid overlords. And for once I am not talking about my wife :(

    • Re:Welcome! (Score:5, Funny)

      by Narpak (961733) on Tuesday June 16, 2009 @05:03PM (#28353591)

      "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).

      Jeeze, don't anyone learn from history? Last time they dug up a frozen creature from the ice it began killing its way through the Norwegian base and then the American one! Burn it! You have to burn it!

      Det er ikke ei bikkje, det er en slags ting!

      • Re:Welcome! (Score:5, Funny)

        by Chris Burke (6130) on Tuesday June 16, 2009 @05:17PM (#28353803) Homepage

        In unrelated news, team zoologist Dr. Hans Blitzen has reported that his prize alaskan malamute, Sparky, has begun acting very strangely.

      • Re:Welcome! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by icebike (68054) on Tuesday June 16, 2009 @05:36PM (#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: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Korin43 (881732)
          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:5, Insightful)

            by icebike (68054) on Tuesday June 16, 2009 @06:20PM (#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.

            • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

              Microbes are found in almost every habitat present in nature. Even in hostile environments such as the poles, deserts, geysers, rocks, and the deep sea and have been known to survive for a prolonged time in a vacuum, and can be highly resistant to radiation, which may even allow them to survive in space. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microorganism#Habitats_and_ecology [wikipedia.org] [wikipedia]
              it is very likely that even though we ingest huge ammounts of disgusting fast food this would not make your body an environment hos

              • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                by TapeCutter (624760) *
                "Microbes are found in almost every habitat present in nature."

                The bacteria found in a human body outnumber the cells, however they only weigh a few kg's in total. Many of these bacteria live in a symbiotic relationship with our cells, we would die without them. Citation [kovideo.net]
              • Microbes are found in almost every habitat present in nature.... it is very likely that even though we ingest huge ammounts of disgusting fast food this would not make your body an environment hostile enough to kill any given microbe.

                the first part of that is true, microbes are found in nearly every extreme environment known to us. However, the same microbes are not found in all (and in most cases even > 1) of these environments, and a great number of them can't survive "normal" conditions. It is extremely likely (though not guaranteed) that a microbe that is suited to survive frozen for that amount of time would be killed by the temperature, PH balance, etc. of the human body

          • The best thing to make this clear to noobs, is to explain, how our complete skin is coated with bacteria (protecting us), and our digestive system would not work without them.

            It's not about bacteria or no bacteria. It's about the right kind. Our symbiont/allies so to speak.
            Some bacteria can even change your character, by living inside of you. (Beware, that there are negative versions of this too!)

        • by T Murphy (1054674)
          The vast majority of microbes are not harmful to us. There are thousands of different species in a gram of dirt, and thousands of yet more species in another gram of dirt. If a significant fraction of them were harmful it would be impossible to stay healthy. I think our odds are plenty safe in assuming this microbe won't hurt us.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by icebike (68054)

            > 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, Informative)

              by John Hasler (414242) on Tuesday June 16, 2009 @09:02PM (#28356203) Homepage

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

              The immune system does not rely exclusively on previous exposure. Your body has many different defenses against bacteria.

              Disease-causing bacteria have evolved to survive in the extremely hostile environment inside living animals.

        • Re:Welcome! (Score:5, Insightful)

          by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland&yahoo,com> on Tuesday June 16, 2009 @06:20PM (#28354555) Homepage Journal

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

        • by Narpak (961733)

          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.

          I felt a need to lighten the mood seeing as this is definitely a remnant of the Star Spawn and it heralds the awakening of the sleeper! ai! ai! ai!

        • Re:Welcome! (Score:5, Informative)

          by ignavus (213578) on Tuesday June 16, 2009 @10:55PM (#28357111)

          Its a bacteria. What viruses live inside it?

          It's a bacterium. If there are two or more, then they are bacteria.

          If we are to be killed by resurrected ancient bacteria, at least let us be grammatically correct when we die!

          • by ultranova (717540)

            If we are to be killed by resurrected ancient bacteria, at least let us be grammatically correct when we die!

            That would be "a resurrected ancient bacterium and its spawn of bacteria", actually. They only found and resurrected one, after all.

        • by Phoghat (1288088)

          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?

          Because that's whaythey want you to believe!

      • Jeeze, don't anyone learn from history? Last time they dug up a frozen creature from the ice it began killing its way through the Norwegian base and then the American one! Burn it! You have to burn it!

        Or even worse, it might become a lawyer.

        • by BluBrick (1924)

          Jeeze, don't anyone learn from history? Last time they dug up a frozen creature from the ice it began killing its way through the Norwegian base and then the American one! Burn it! You have to burn it!

          Or even worse, it might become a lawyer.

          Are you proposing some form of evolutionary regression? Hmm, I know that theory was popular in the 70's and 80's but apparently it's still around [wikipedia.org].

    • Sounds like this is happening in many places right now as we melt old ice in our carbon hubris. And that wicked old sun keeps irradiating genomes with UV, doo dah...
  • by arizwebfoot (1228544) * on Tuesday June 16, 2009 @05:00PM (#28353547)

    but it can pass through a 0.2 micron filter... If there are other ultra-small bacteria that are pathogens, then they could be present in solutions presumed to be sterile.

    Okay, I'm sufficiently worried enough to get my tin hat.

    • 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.
      • by oneirophrenos (1500619) on Tuesday June 16, 2009 @05:09PM (#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.

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

          Agreed, however, that doesn't mean there aren't pathogens out there that small that we just haven't found yet.

          My tin foil hat stays on.

        • by Red Flayer (890720) on Tuesday June 16, 2009 @05:15PM (#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.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by FlyingBishop (1293238)

            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.

            Really? I would say it's an eternity. The Flu changes sufficiently to render itself impervious to our vaccines on a monthly and in some cases daily basis. Multiply that by 120,000 years, and I think we would have seen this bacteria before if it had any staying power as a mammalian pathogen.

            • The flu is a virus, not a bacteria, and it requires a host organism to survive.

              Apples to orangutans. There are bacteria that can infect humans but also exist free of a host, though these are rare and typically not a threat as a pathogen except for the immuno-compromised.

              Multiply that by 120,000 years, and I think we would have seen this bacteria before if it had any staying power as a mammalian pathogen.

              Why? If it infects arctic land creatures, it could possibly exist in an isolated population for some

            • That's 120,000 dormant years.

              Not much change occurs when an organism is, for all intents and purposes, inert.
          • by geekoid (135745)

            He didn't say low, he said miniscule. as it a better chan ce of winning every lottery for a year, while being struck by lightning are mor likely to happen.

            And if it does happen, then it isn't adapted to get anything from our body, so it will be harmless. It will be destroyed or ignored.

            And crossing species is only done when 2 or more virus have evolved the abilities interact to share genes in those species.

            for bacteria 120,000 years is a huge amount of time and many, many, many generations have based and th

          • Obviously you haven't seen Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer [wikipedia.org].
          • by againjj (1132651)

            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.

            Note, it survived in ice, not necessarily adapted to live in ice. Note that it did not replicate until it was incubated at 5C (41F). </nitpick> Though it was explicitly mentioned as non-pathogenic. I imagine cold-blooded creatures would have more to worry about.

            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              by TapeCutter (624760) *
              "I imagine cold-blooded creatures would have more to worry about."

              Don't tell the politicians they will pull the funding.
        • by pz (113803)

          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.

          You're saying this because you're asserting that mammalian immune systems are radically different now than they were 120,000 years ago? Our genus (Homo, as in Homo sapiens) has been around for something like 2.5 million years. A bacterium from 120,000 years ago could well be infectious to humans.

        • by eli pabst (948845)

          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.

          I don't know if I really agree with that. Some of the more dangerous pathogens are those that have recently jumped from other species and have had little time to

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 16, 2009 @05:15PM (#28353761)

      From TFAbstract, the bacteria are 0.043 um^3 in volume. I know they're rod-shaped, but a sphere of that volume has a radius of 0.22 um; depending on the aspect ratio of the rod, they could be narrow enough to pass through 0.2 um pores (eg, if the rod is 0.2 um in diameter, it would have to be 1.4 um long). And yes, I know the pore size is nominal. Either way, there are far tighter filters that could be used if pathogenic bacteria on this scale are discovered. Membranes with 0.1 um nominal pores are used to clear mycoplasma, for example.

  • But I hope they're being very careful with these things. Excited Chrichton-like sci-fi visions notwithstanding, we could easily get ourselves into a lot of trouble with things like these. And I'm not thinking about dinosaurs, but rather things like our collective genomes losing resistance to things that are supposed to have disappeared from our ecosystems.

    • by yenne (1366903)
      Now all we need is a novel whose climactic ending details the heroic efforts of quack scientists to destroy the proliferating microbes with tiny black holes from the LHC.
    • by pwfffff (1517213)

      So you're telling me I shouldn't have licked the samples when I was working as a lab assistant there?

      Seriously, they aren't shooting them up or anything, and it's just as likely that we've evolved some super-effective method of removing these microbes in the meantime. Maybe that's even what caused them to seek out the safety of the frozen north!

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by easyTree (1042254)

      but rather things like our collective genomes losing resistance to things that are supposed to have disappeared from our ecosystems.

      Hopefully that's not the way it works.. I mean, isn't the genome mostly stuff which 'appears' to have no value? Maybe this is the archive of things useful from past ages.

      *touches plastic-covered glue-and-wood-chips*

  • by rev_sanchez (691443) on Tuesday June 16, 2009 @05:15PM (#28353765)
    Not to question her qualifications as a scientist or anything but I suspect that being a woman she forgot to account for shrinkage.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      women are highly qualified to find things that are smaller than advertised.

  • So it begins.
  • The Plague 2.0 (Score:3, Interesting)

    by curtix7 (1429475) on Tuesday June 16, 2009 @05:18PM (#28353811)
    I can't wait until "is not harmful to humans" turns into "wasn't supposed to be harmful to humans"
    • by Spatial (1235392)
      Fortunately this isn't a movie, so this is what's going to happen:






      (Absolutely nothing)
  • We should probably send their little frozen cousins on the moon a quick warning about the incoming NASA rocket!
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by yenne (1366903)
      ... assuming of course that the microbes didn't revive themselves in order to prevent the launch in the first place.
  • If this was 'brought back to life' (assuming the process was done by mere mortals), then it was never truly dead. It may have been dormant, in suspended animation, or beyond modern sciences' ability to detect life, but it certainly was not dead. Dead is what something is when it doesn't come back. And don't talk about 'my uncle died on the operating table three times...'. That's clinically dead, an altogether different thing.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by oodaloop (1229816)
      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: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Itninja (937614)
        That's just the point. It have had some metabolic function and internal chemical reactions. I am pretty sure that's required for all carbon based life, no matter how simple. It's like saying that the Sea Monkeys I had as a kid were dead and 'brought them back to life' at home. They were not dead.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Dragonslicer (991472)

          That's just the point. It have had some metabolic function and internal chemical reactions.

          Is that true though? If the bacteria's temperature is dropped low enough, all metabolic functions would stop (it's hard to say that all chemical reactions would stop, but that's the case for nearly everything, living or not). When the temperature is raised, the reactions would start occurring again and metabolism would start up.

          • by Itninja (937614)
            What you are describing is not death, but extreme hibernation or suspended animation. Many lifeforms will slow to a deathlike state when temperatures are lowered enough. Centuries ago, scientists thought many of those creatures actually were dead. Now, with more advanced instruments, they know they are not dead at all but in extreme hibernation. Death is when nothing (beyond a crit roll on a d20) can bring the lifeform back.
            • Death is when nothing (beyond a crit roll on a d20) can bring the lifeform back.

              Wait, you have to roll a 20 when you cast Raise Dead now? Man, I must be a few editions behind.

              • by Chris Burke (6130) on Tuesday June 16, 2009 @10:13PM (#28356805) Homepage

                Wait, you have to roll a 20 when you cast Raise Dead now? Man, I must be a few editions behind.

                Naw, that goes back to the 1st Edition magical item the Staff of Healing (aka the Heal Stick), which you used to heal someone by beating them with it. On a critical hit, it could even heal the dead. In the universes with such an item, the term "beating a dead horse" referred to the inordinate amount of time a martially unskilled but greedy rancher would spend bludgeoning a valuable deceased horse with a Heal Stick attempting to bring it back.

        • by geekoid (135745)

          No, you can have death. And then be brought back. It is archaic to define death as 'a irreversible coma'.

          I have seen people with no response in there brain or heart be brought back.
          It's only a matter of time were death will be reversible for hours after the fact.

          If someone has been lying on the slab for 3 days, and I figure out how to bring them back, were they dead?

          • by Itninja (937614)

            It's only a matter of time were death will be reversible for hours after the fact.

            Possibly I suppose. But once cell death goes cascade and massive (i.e. decomposition), then bringing them back would require rebuilding their vital organs' cells via nanomachines (or some such). That would not really be 'bringing them back' as much as 'we can rebuild it, we have the technology'; really a entirely new life form.

      • by Red Flayer (890720) on Tuesday June 16, 2009 @05:59PM (#28354311) Journal
        Go ahead and mod me troll, but...

        Something that is dead has no potential of becoming alive again. Otherwise it is not truly dead, but only mostly dead. The question is, what does the bacteria have to live for?

        Now take this pill and don't go swimming for a half hour. And have fun cytokine-storming the castle.
        • by Anonymous Coward

          ah well, he's probably pining for the fjords.

          Remarkably, a python quote which is actually topical! //Lovely plumage!

        • Something that is dead has no potential of becoming alive again. Otherwise it is not truly dead, but only mostly dead.

          That is not dead which can eternal lie
          Yet with strange aeons even death may die.

        • The question is, what does the bacteria have to live for?

          Why are you people so eukaryotocentric? Equal treatment for all should be our creed. Prokaryotes of the World, Unite!! You have nothing to lose but your inability to form cell membranes!

      • In other words...

        - I wish to complain about this bacterium, what I thawed out not 'alf an hour ago from this very block of ice.

        - Oh yes, the, ah, the Herminiimonas glaciei... What's, ah... W-what's wrong with it?

        - I'll tell you what's wrong with it, my lad. It's dead, that's what's wrong with it.

        - No, no, 'e's ah... he's resting.

        - Look, matey, I know a dead bacterium when I see one, and I'm looking at one right now.

        - No no, h-he's not dead, he's, he's restin'!

        - Restin'?

        - Y-yeah, restin.' Remarkable microbe,

    • by pjt33 (739471)

      No, it was dead dead. And now that it's alive and going to have to start paying taxes again, it's going to be really pissed off.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      No, I've seen people brought back to life, in one case after almost 5 minutes.

      Clinically dead, is dead.
      Go to a graveyard, all those people underground? there clinically dead to.

      • by Itninja (937614)

        No, I've seen people brought back to life, in one case after almost 5 minutes.

        I assure you, you have not. You've seen people in deathlike states resuscitated. Children who fall through an icy pond can be underwater for 20 minutes and still be resuscitated. These children are not dead, but rather in an extremely minimal metabolic state.

        The term 'clinically dead' refers to people who have no detectable signs of life (i.e. detectable heartbeat, breathing). That would included anyone who is truly dead as wel

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      I just assumed that, given its location, it was really just pining for the fjords.
  • [disclaimer] I don't have much knowledge in this area [/disclaimer], but is it possible (not probable) that there is a danger that it could provoke an immune reaction? The article says it's not a pathogen, so I'm not worried that it's a threat, or that it would get in hollywood fashion out even in the very tiny tiny chance it was dangerous in anyway.
  • So ... does this mean that this bacterium is now the "oldest living thing"?

    • by Ada_Rules (260218)

      So ... does this mean that this bacterium is now the "oldest living thing"?

      No, that distinction still applies to Democratic Senator and former KKK member Robert Byrd.

      • by easyTree (1042254)

        Democratic Senator and former KKK member Robert Byrd

        Lol. Check this out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-V95eGgZbrU [youtube.com]

        I've never heard of the guy before so thought I'd google him. I was watching; noticed a pattern and hoped it might repeat. Then, the gods smiled upon me at 00:32 - *Awesome*

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      A couple orders of magnitude too young to claim that crown, according to this site [extremescience.com]
  • Anyone ever think there might be a good idea that this little microbe was buried beneath the ice at an abnormal depth and frozen to almost complete immobility for so long? Seriously why wake an unknown microbe before we even have anything that can protect us from its potential spread. I'm going to go lock myself in 2 ziplock freezer bags and wait for the destruction.

    there are things worse than goblins in the depths of the world.M

  • by imamac (1083405)
    Whatcouldpossiblygowrong?
  • These things are now some of the smallest known biological systems. They're still too big to give us sufficient hints to the origin of life. It is hard to believe that there are not smaller biological systems out there waiting to be found. It has been suggested that Mars may still have some life on it deep underground and these may be more likely to be "closer" to the origin of life.. but maybe not. If not, that might imply that life didn't originate in our solar system and both Mars and Earth were seed

    • ... life didn't originate in our solar system and both Mars and Earth were seeded by extra-solar DC-10-flying Thetans.

      Lots of things have been suggested.

  • Oh, yeah. Oooh, ahhh, that's how it always starts. Then later there's running and screaming
  • To say "..brought back to life" is, plainly an exhageration at best, and profound irresponsible hyperbole at worst: There is NO proof that anything was brought back to life! Yes, the team apparently observed aspects of metabolism but they note that at the extremely low temperatures and extremely high pressures existing at their normal habitat the specimens could have been doing the very same things, for thousands of years, but at a velocity so low as not to be appreciated. Bringing them 'up to temperatur
  • by ammit (1485755)
    I'm not tossing out my zombie survival guide yet. We know nothing about it but it's harmless. *raises eyebrow*
  • I wonder, why those Scientists always think in such extremely limited ways?

    As if the form of extraterrestrial life would even be close to genetics, cells, plants, animals and other lifeforms with hands, eyes, brains out or neurons, a head, etc.

    They will not even see extraterrestrial life, when it sits/floats right in front of them.

  • Please don't forget the spot where you found it. We will have to bury it in the same spot if something goes bad. :D

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