Microbes found themselves buried in dirt 101.5 million years ago, before even Tyrannosaurus rex when the largest meat-eating dinosaur on Earth, called Spinosaurus was passing through the planet. Time passed, the continents shifted, the oceans rose and fell, great apes emerged and eventually humans evolved with the curiosity and skill to dig those ancient cells. And now, in a Japanese lab, researchers have brought the organisms with single cells back to life.
Researchers aboard the drilling vessel JOIDES Resolution collected samples of sediment from the ocean floor 10 years ago. Samples came from 1008 feet (100 meters) below the 20,000-foot-deep (6,000 m) bottom of the Southern Gyre bottom. That’s a region of the Pacific Ocean that contains little nutrients and little oxygen available for life to live on, and researchers have been looking for data on how microbes are brought together in such a remote part of the world.
“Our main question was whether life could exist in a limited environment such as a nutrient or whether it was a lifeless area,” said Yuki Morono, a scientist at the Japan Agency for Marine Science and Technology. the lead author of a new paper on germs, said in a statement. “And we wanted to know how long microbes could sustain their lives in near food shortages.
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Their results indicate that even cells found in 101.5 million years old sediment samples are able to activate when oxygen and nutrients become available.
“At first, I was skeptical, but we found that up to 99.1% of the germs in the sediment deposited 101.5 million years ago were still alive and ready to eat,” Morono said.
The microbes stopped all noticeable activity. But when they offered nutrients and other necessities of life they became active again.
To ensure that their sample was not contaminated with modern microbes, the researchers cracked open the sediment in a very sterile environment, select the microbial cells present and give them an exclusively tiny nutrient tube designed to prevent contaminants.
The cells responded, most of them quickly. They quickly burst nitrogen and carbon. In 68 days, the total number of cells was quadrupled from the original 6,986.
Aerobic bacteria – oxygen breathers – were the worst cells and likely to wake up. These tiny organisms survived only on the small air bubbles that make their way down into the sediment on geological time scales. It appears that the metabolic rate of aerobic bacteria is slow enough to allow them to survive for such extended periods.
The research was published on July 28 in the journal Nature Communications.
Originally published on Live Science.