The microbes were buried in dirt 101.5 million years ago, even before Tyrannosaurus rexui, when the world’s largest meat-eating dinosaur called the Spinosaur roamed the planet. Time passed, continents shifted, oceans rose and fell, huge monkeys emerged, and eventually humans developed curiosity and skills to dig those ancient cells. Now, in a Japanese laboratory, researchers have brought back the lives of unicellular organisms.
Researchers from the drilling vessel JOIDES Resolution collected sediment samples from the ocean floor 10 years ago. Samples were taken from 328 feet (100 meters) below the depth of 20,000 feet (6,000 m) of South Pacific kvass. It is a Pacific region with very little nutrients and little oxygen to survive. Scientists have been looking for data on how microbes cope in such a remote part of the world.
“Our key question was whether life could exist in an environment with limited nutrients, or it was a dead zone,”; said Yuki Morono, a scientist at Japan’s Marine and Earth Science and Technology Agency and the main new article on microbes, the report said. “And we wanted to know how long microbes could sustain their lives when there was almost no food.
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Their results show that even cells found in sediment samples from 101.5 million years old are able to wake up when oxygen and nutrients become available.
“I was skeptical at first, but we found that up to 99.1% of the sediment microbes deposited 101.5 million years ago were still alive and ready to eat,” Morono said.
The microbes stopped any noticeable activity. But when offered nutrients and other necessities of life, they became active again.
To make sure their sample was not contaminated with modern microbes, the researchers cracked the pellet in a highly sterile environment by selecting existing microbial cells and feeding them nutrients in an exceptionally small tube designed to prevent contamination.
The cells responded, many of them quickly. They quickly absorb nitrogen and carbon. Within 68 days, the total cell number quadrupled from baseline to 6,986.
Aerobic bacteria – oxygen breathers – were the heaviest cells and probably woke up. These small organisms survived due to small air bubbles that settle in the sediments during geological periods. The metabolism of aerobic bacteria seems to be slow enough for them to survive for such a long time.
The study was published on July 28. In Nature Communications magazine.
Originally published in Live Science.