A team of Japanese scientists managed to revive bacteria that had lain dormant on the bottom of the ocean for 100 million years, The Guardian reported. The revived microbes were able to eat and even reproduce.
The researchers, led by the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, reviewed samples of microbes pulled from the bottom of the sea in the South Pacific, a part of the ocean where the sediment contains fewer nutrients than other parts of the sea, and, as such, are less hospitable to life.
Indeed, microbes that had sat in that sediment since dinosaurs roamed the Earth were presumed long dead — until they wound up under the Japanese researchers’ microscopes.
The scientists were able to coax the organisms back to life via incubation, and indeed, after a period of time being given ideal conditions, the organisms had come back to life, even eating and reproducing.
The study’s lead author, Yuki Morono, said he was so shocked by the result that at first he thought he’d made a mistake.
“When I found them, I was first skeptical whether the findings are from some mistake or a failure in the experiment,” he said.
Steven D’Hondt, URI Graduate School of Oceanography professor and a co-author of the study, noted that the odds were against the microbes as soon as they were pulled up.
“In the oldest sediment we’ve drilled, with the least amount of food, there are still living organisms, and they can wake up, grow and multiply,” he said.
As for how the organisms were able to effectively “live” in an inhospitable environment for millions of years, Morono noted that trace elements of oxygen in the muck were enough to keep the microorganisms alive. He also said that, compared to their cousins at the surface of the sea, these microbes expend millions of times less energy.
He added that microbes reproduce differently than higher organisms do and, thus, don’t have “lifespans” in the sense that a human or a dog or a tree would.
Meanwhile, the team’s findings add to the growing body of research that suggests that life can exist in places once thought impossible. For example, microorganisms have been found near undersea vents, in places totally devoid of oxygen, which is generally considered an absolute necessity for life.
Similarly, according to Space.com, mundane Earth-bound bacteria and fungi have been found on the International Space Station, having apparently survived microgravity and increased radiation with aplomb.