Microbes found in Mexico’s Cave of Crystals could be up to 50,000 years old, according to researchers with the NASA Astrobiological Institute. The researchers have confirmed the microbes had been dormant for tens of thousands of years. However, they remarkably “remained viable… and were able to be regrown” for further study.
The Cave of Crystals is part of Chihuahua, Mexico’s, breathtaking Naica mine.
As reported by CrystaLinks.com, the mine was established in the late 1700s — when prospectors discovered a substantial vein of silver ore. The mine was given the name “Naica,” as it was near the base of the Naica Hills.
Over the next 100 years, the Naica Mine remained a rich source of silver, gold, lead, and zinc. It was also known for its extraordinary Cave of Swords, which was discovered nearly 400 feet below the surface in 1910.
One year after the discovery of the Cave of Swords, the Naica Mine was shut down amid a dispute between the mine’s owner and Revolutionary troops. Although it remained closed for a total of 11 years, the mine was reopened in 1922.
Over the next 90 years, operations continued at the Chihuahua, Mexico, mine. However, the Naica Mine’s unique caverns were preserved — largely intact.
The Cave of Swords was the first crystal-filled cavern discovered below the surface of the Naica Mine, but the Cave of Crystals, which was discovered nearly 600 feet under the Cave of Swords, remains the most significant.
As reported by BeautifulWorld.com, Mexico’s Cave of Crystals contains massive selenite crystals — which are nearly 30 feet long and weigh an estimated 55 tons. It is believed that the massive crystals have been forming for at least 500,000 years.
“People in special containment suits explore the massive beams of selenite inside the Cave of Crystals in Naica mine” pic.twitter.com/Iie0ZiPxSF
— Modern Sculpture (@abstractsculp) February 18, 2017
Although the Cave of Crystals is one of the most magnificent natural wonders of the world, tourists are prohibited from entering the cavern. In addition to containing dangerous razor-sharp crystals, the cave’s temperature poses a significant risk.
As the temperature inside the Cave of Crystals is a steady 150 degrees Fahrenheit, “no human can spend more than a mere few minutes inside the cave.”
Despite the uninviting conditions, a team, which was led by astrobiologist Penelope Boston, has been studying Mexico’s Cave of Crystals since 2008.
As reported by National Geographic, Boston and her team managed to extract fluid from voids inside the ancient crystals. The were stunned to discovered the fluid was filled with dormant microbes, which “were able to be regrown.”
Further study of the microbes revealed, “the organisms are genetically distinct from anything known on Earth.” Boston said the microbes share similarities with other organisms currently living in and around the Cave of Crystals. However, their differences are equally significant.
Boston said she and her team took numerous precautions to avoid contamination of the samples, and she is confident “that they are seeing organisms from inside the crystals.” Unfortunately, returning to Mexico’s Cave of Crystals to collect more samples would be nearly impossible.
The crystal-filled caverns beneath the Naica Mine were discovered when the mining company drained the groundwater in and around the mine. As the company has ceased operations, the caverns are once again under water.
— The New Earth Expo (@TNEE22) January 30, 2017
Although collecting new samples is not an option, Boston confirmed the samples collected in 2008 “are still actively growing.” The astrobiologist said she does not have as much “time for science,” because she was promoted to a management position. However, she hopes her team and other researchers will continue to study the ancient organisms.
Despite the fact that the discovery of previously unknown organisms inside Mexico’s Cave of Crystals is significant, some scientists are skeptical. French National Center for Scientific Research microbiologist Purificación López-García said she believes it is possible that previously unknown organisms were preserved inside the crystals, but she is not convinced “that they are viable after 10,000 to 50,000 years.”
[Featured Image by Nastya22/Shutterstock]