Scientists have recovered microbes found in hundreds of millions of years old sediments from deep under the ocean floor. During the experiment, new information shines about where life can be found on Earth – and how it can be resilient.
According to a new study published in the journal Nature Communications, microbes buried under the seabed have survived for up to 101.5 million years. The sediment lacks the energy needed to support the cells, but scientists have still been able to revitalize the communities.
The secret is how microbes have managed to survive the harsh conditions of their environment – and it is unclear how long they can live. The researchers said they may be the oldest organisms on the planet.
Scientists from the Japan Marine and Land Science and Technology Agency analyzed sediment samples from approximately 12,140 to 18,700 feet below the ocean surface in the South Pacific Gira, a system of rotating currents. At the heart of the South Pacific kvass is the “ocean accessibility pillar,” a remote location on Earth, far from the earth, the lowest-performing portion of the entire ocean.
There is little food in this place, but deep under the bottom it is high in oxygen. Sediment layers collected in 2010 During the expedition, it was deposited between 13 million and 101.5 million years ago.
In the sediment, the researchers found marine microbes: tiny unicellular microorganisms that make up the majority of living things in the ocean. Trapped in the sediment layers, they could barely move or eat.
The researchers wanted to know if life could exist in an environment lacking nutrients.
Returning to the lab, the researchers were able to wake the microbes out of a long sleep. They gave antique samples of carbon and nitrogen substrates to check if they were power cables and if they were dividing into more cells.
Within 68 days, the vast majority of the nearly 7,000 cells responded quickly to the new conditions, multiplied by four degrees of magnitude – even in the oldest samples. The researchers said aerobic bacteria predominated in the experiment.
“What we’ve learned is that life spends its entire length from the seabed to the rocky basement beneath it,” Steven D’Hondt, an oceanographer and co-author of the University of Rhodes, told the news video. “These organisms are not only alive in the deepest, oldest sediments, but are also capable of growing and sharing.”
“It’s surprising and biologically challenging that a large proportion of microbes can be revived through very long burial or entrapment in extremely low nutrient / energy conditions,” Yuki Morono, lead author, told Reuters.
Studies show that microbes could survive previously unmeasured time if sediment accumulates very slowly, retaining oxygen over time.
Through further experiments, researchers now hope to find out how microbes have been able to survive for millions of years.
“The most exciting part of this study is that it basically shows that life in the ancient sediments of the Earth’s ocean is not restricted,” D’Hondt told Reuters. “Maintaining a full physiological ability to starve for 100 million years in isolation is an impressive feat.”