A new study finds that microbes that have slept for millions of years may be able to regenerate, causing intriguing new questions about the nature of life itself.
A research team led by the Japan Agency for Marine and Terrestrial Science and Technology experimented with samples of sediments from the South Pacific Ocean deposited more than 100 million years ago, according to an article published in Nature. Because the sediments are low in nutrients, theoretically this area would not be pleasant for life forms. However, scientists have been able to regenerate almost all the microorganisms in the samples through an incubation process, suggesting that they may have been able to survive at rest for millions of years due to traces of oxygen in the sediment.
A key factor in understanding the significance of the study? Microbes on the seabed were able to survive, consuming much less energy than microbes on the surface. This may help explain how they were able to live in the uniquely hostile conditions of deep-sea sediment, although it adds to the mystery of how the same microbes were also able to adapt to life on the surface.
The main relevance of this study is that it challenges the understanding of the “rules of life,”; said Seven D’Hondt, the geomicrobiologist who contributed to the study, who told the Salon by e-mail. species can survive for so long with so little energy and then return to normal activities, returning to the conditions of the surface world. “
He added: “The most important contribution to our understanding of ancient life is to demonstrate that ancient life is still present in the world. I say this because these underwater populations probably did not reproduce very quickly and did not accumulate many new mutations because they were buried. “
A particularly notable detail of the study, as the authors wrote in their work, is that “sample communities are likely to have been precipitated from the beginning after its deposition. The physiological status and growth potential of these buried communities, and the factions of these energy-starving submarines microbes that are alive, dormant, or dead were essentially unknown. “
Virginia Edcomb, a microbial ecologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who was not involved in the study, told Science Magazine that the study shows that “microbial life is very persistent and often finds a way to survive.”
Another scientist who did not participate in the study, microbiologist Andreas Teske of the University of North Carolina, told the journal that “if the surface of a planet does not look promising for life, it can stay in the highlands.”
Salon asked D’Hondt if the microbes found in the sediment met all the qualifications that they were “alive.” This is not always a cut-and-dry question, as there is a heated debate among scientists about whether microscopic formations, like viruses, can technically be considered forms of “life.” However, D’Hondt was convinced that these microbes had made the incision.
“Something is generally considered alive if it can grow, reproduce and collect energy on its own,” D’Hondt told the Salon. “As shown in our work, Yuki Morono’s experiments directly showed that 99% of the microbes in our buried communities do this (grow, multiply and collect energy).”
He was deeply skeptical about whether experiments could provoke real-life science fiction scenarios, such as the Jurassic Park, where dinosaurs were returned after extinction.
“I think someone can resuscitate something like yeast this way,” he replied. “But something like the Jurassic Park scenario (such as living dinosaurs) will require the reproduction of dinosaurs, not the rebirth of still living organisms (like our bacteria).”