The abyssal plain of the South Pacific Gyre is a particularly dreary place. Not only is it deep under the ocean, it contains little organic matter to feed on. The sediment at the bottom accumulates very slowly, so that oxygen permeates deep into the ocean subfloor. Scientists from the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology and partner organizations retrieved cores from the sea floor 100 meters deep and nearly 6000 meters below the ocean surface. They found the cores contained oxygen throughout -and ancient microbes that may have been lying dormant for millions of years. Steven D’Hondt of the University of Rhode Island explains.
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When they were first buried, D’Hondt says, these sediments would have contained about one million cells per cubic centimetre. “What’s left are about 1000 cells per cubic centimetre, but they’ve been living under very challenging conditions for up to 100 million years.”
He continues: “Basically, they’re only getting enough energy to repair their molecules as they break”, with none left over to grow and divide.
When brought into the lab and given more nutrient-rich diets, however, these bacteria prove to be not just alive, but able to revive, grow and multiply, exactly like normal bacteria.
How they can do that, D’Hondt says, is a mystery. Either the individual cells are somehow surviving for “ridiculous lengths of time” or they “are reproducing with less energy than we thought possible”. But one way or another “they are starvation artists”.
The discovery may have implications for the search for life on Mars and other planets. Then we have the questions of what could possibly go wrong with resurrecting ancient microbes, why this had to be done in 2020, and will hand sanitizer kill them? Read about the research at Cosmos magazine. -via Metafilter
(Image credit: JAMSTEC)