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NASA Space United States Science

NASA Scientist Revive 10,000-Year-Old Microorganisms (bbc.com) 110

"Scientists have extracted long-dormant microbes from inside the famous giant crystals of the Naica mountain caves in Mexico -- and revived them," reports the BBC. An anonymous reader writes: "The organisms were likely to have been encased in the striking shafts of gypsum at least 10,000 years ago, and possibly up to 50,000 years ago," according to the BBC, which calls the strange lifeforms "another demonstration of the ability of life to adapt and cope in the most hostile of environments." With no light, extremophile species must "chemosynthesise," deriving all their energy by extracting minerals from rocks. These ancient microbes "are not very closely related to anything in the known genetic databases," according to the new director of NASA's Astrobiology Institute, who helped conduct the research, and believes that the microbes could help suggest what life might look like on other planets. The BBC adds that many other scientists "suspect that if life does exist elsewhere in the Solar System, it is most likely to be underground, chemosynthesising like the microbes of Naica."
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NASA Scientist Revive 10,000-Year-Old Microorganisms

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  • by Applehu Akbar ( 2968043 ) on Monday February 20, 2017 @06:46AM (#53899161)

    Even though these bacteria are still alive, carbon dating should still work as long as the organism is no longer absorbing carbon from its environment.

    • Indeed. Other than a protestation to the contrary by the lead researcher, Dr Penelope Boston,

      it isn't clear these microorganisms weren't the result of contamination by researchers or the miners who discovered the cave 100 years ago.

      • by bruce_the_loon ( 856617 ) on Monday February 20, 2017 @11:13AM (#53900387) Homepage

        Having watched the National Geographic documentary on the expeditions into the caves, the chances of external contamination for the samples looked acceptably low. The samples were taken from an inch or more inside the crystals, from liquid inclusions accessed by drilling with sterilized drill bits and sterile transfer. The sample sites were in deeper areas of the cave to further reduce the risk.

        Combine that with the lack of a close genetic match to modern samples, and the level of confidence in the samples been uncontaminated should be satisfactory high. To contaminate the inclusion, you'd have to breach it, contaminate it and the crystal would have to regrow (something it doesn't do when out of water) all deep inside a cave so hot that it can kill in a couple of minutes without protection.

    • How much material does one need to perform a carbon dating test? Given they will have at least some motility, the matrix their in isn't necessarily the same age as they are, and you can culture bacteria from amounts far smaller than necessary to perform some chemical tests. Perhaps there isn't enough until after you've grown them up, at which point the carbon test won't tell you anything.
    • by quenda ( 644621 ) on Monday February 20, 2017 @09:44AM (#53899805)

      Carbon dating tells you when the carbon was taken from the atmosphere. It depends on a known ratio of carbon-14 isotopes in the air.
      It does not work for underground organisms, where the air may contain CO2 from the rocks.

  • by OpenSourced ( 323149 ) on Monday February 20, 2017 @07:14AM (#53899217) Journal

    I've seen that film.

    It doesn't end well.

  • "They look like little grasshoppers."
  • by Jim Sadler ( 3430529 ) on Monday February 20, 2017 @07:43AM (#53899275)
    I have no clue as to the numbers or mass of these bacteria that munch on rocks beneath our surface. But just maybe they might displace algae as being the predominant life form on Earth. It has been said in the past that an alien species might see algae as the significant life form on Earth and only be interested with communications with algae. Even termites might have more effect upon our world than humans.
  • by Nutria ( 679911 ) on Monday February 20, 2017 @08:36AM (#53899455)

    never mentions how that life might have started.

    Terrestrial proto-life had Sol and warm seas agitated by tidal motion, but Mars gets 56% less sunlight, and Titan gets just 1% of Earth's solar energy.

    • That's why research like this into life that derives its energy chemically is interesting for exobiology. You take the factors you mention out of the equation.
      • by Nutria ( 679911 )

        Isn't chemosynthesis much less efficient? That -- to me -- would imply that jump-starting life on Mars or Titan would be significantly more difficult than on Earth.

        • Eh... the efficiency is going to depend on the enzymes/biochemistry. I don't think you could say one source of energy is necessarily more efficient than another when posting about a novel lifeform. Not as much light on Titan, so even if there were autotrophs they wouldn't necessarily have as much of an advantage as they would on Earth.
    • Europa - another moon where the possibility of life exists - had a liquid water ocean agitated by radiation from and gravitational interactions with Jupiter. No, we likely wouldn't find plants using photosynthesis, but any life we find there would likely have evolved to make use of radiation/gravitational flux as an energy source instead of solar energy. Just because life evolved one way on Earth doesn't mean that's the only way for life to arise/evolve.

    • We know for a fact that Mars had warm seas when life was getting started on Earth. How it could've started on Mars is no mystery. Whether it could've survived to today underground is the mystery.

      • by Nutria ( 679911 )

        How it could've started on Mars is no mystery.

        But with 56% less sunlight, the likelihood is much lower.

        • 56% less than what? If it's the terrestrial average I don't see the point. Scotland gets considerably less than that and there's life there. Not sentient life, but life nonetheless.

          • by Nutria ( 679911 )

            The issue isn't whether or not life exists in Scotland, but whether or not terrestrial biogenesis could have originate in such an environment.

            • However, many models for terrestrial abiogenesis have it occurring in hydrothermal circulating systems and only using chemotrophic processes, not photosynthetic processes. Photosynthesis seems to be hundreds of millions of years, or maybe a billion years later.
        • Actually early on conditions for life were likely more favourable on Mars than on Earth for several hundred million years. In fact there is a very credible hypothesis that life began on Mars and was transferred to Earth later (meteorites with Martian material have been found on Earth).

          • by Nutria ( 679911 )

            Evidence that early conditions for life were likely more favourable on Mars than on Earth and that life began on Mars and was transferred to Earth? ("Martian meteorites found on Earth" hardly reaches that standard.)

  • Why should those dinosaurs have all the fun?!

  • I've seen this movie about giant crystals threatening the world [imdb.com]. It was actually pretty good, so I'm off to make some popcorn and wait for those things to burst out of the ground.
  • Because that's how you get Thing monsters :-P

  • If an atomic/molecular/yet-unguessed-at structure can be held in stasis for 10K-to-50K years, and then (re) animated, what exactly is life?

    The two most basic indicators of life are a) replication of itself and b) information gathering via DNA or some other mechanism.

    The common result of life is an overall increase in entropy, although it decreases for subsystems.

    But what exactly is it? When can we make it in the lab from scratch?

    • These aren't anything that weird, just bacteria and archaea. Encased in the crystals, their spores were preserved from the exterior environment. Underground, minimal radiation to poke holes in their DNA while they were dormant. You're still probably looking at multiple log reductions in viability.
    • It is an energy endodynamic, once started it does not exhaust but is transmitted from entity to entity in a continuous. Call it the Spark of Life, I do. So to start life we have to set the framework for it then start the energetic process and its transmission. It is by sustaining the process from entity into next entity that Entropy is defeated, and it also accounts for Evolution as a mechanism to defeat Entropy, though by no means the only one. One laboratory that I know of is already on the path, though p
  • Is life on Earth a one-off? If we look at our survey of planets with life (1 planet Earth) and find life started *twice*, then that certainly means life started in other parts of the universe (N+1). Which would be an amazing discovery.

    Also, does every post need to be related with Donald Trump? Can you take your abusive relationship somewhere else?
  • No problem (Score:5, Funny)

    by JustAnotherOldGuy ( 4145623 ) on Monday February 20, 2017 @12:32PM (#53900957)

    Reviving a 10,000 year old microorganism? I see nothing that could possibly go wrong with this.

  • That's awesome! I'm pretty sure an episode of X Files started that way. I forget exactly how that one turned out, I think the microbes end up being very nice to everyone and at the end they buy Scully and Mulder milkshakes!
  • If this organism gets loose will I have to find a substitute for my gypsum walls in my house?
    • They adore gypsum. The crystals in the cave are identical to gypsum except they have an electron rotated in their molecular structure which prevents the microbe from destroying them.

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