Scientists revive microbes trapped on the seafloor 100 million years ago

Katie Ramirez
July 30, 2020

The samples were gathered from up to 75 metres below the seafloor and almost 6,000 metres below the ocean's surface, where living conditions are harsh and the nutrients that fuel the marine food chain are limited.

A sample of the soil in which they were trapped was taken from an expedition in 2010 to the Gyre of the South Pacific, an area apparently lifeless in the centre of ocean currents in eddy to the east of Australia, known as one of the most limited in food and deficient in life (as well as a vortex of garbage, with all the plastic pollution that accumulates on the surface).

These microbes came from the oldest marine sediment samples ever studied.

The researchers, led by Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology geomicrobiologist Yuki Morono, incubated the microbes for up to 557 days in a secure laboratory setting, providing carbon and nitrogen "food" sources such as ammonia, acetate and amino acids.

"But what we found was that life extends in the deep ocean from the seafloor all the way to the underlying rocky basement", he added.

After analyzing their samples, the scientists discovered oxygen in the sediment cores, indicating that the region below the seafloor has ideal habitable conditions for aerobic microorganisms or those that need oxygen to live.

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"We knew that there was life in deep sediment near the continents where there's a lot of buried organic matter".

Microbes that have been dormant even before the dinosaurs became extinct were successfully revived by a team of scientists. "At first I was skeptical, but we found that up to 99.1% of the microbes in sediment deposited 101.5 million years ago were still alive and were ready to eat".

Not only does it show that life can sit waiting in the most extreme environments on Earth but gives new hope that it could be found on inhospitable planets, such as Mars.

'We want to understand how or if these ancient microbes evolved.

Across the length of the roughly 250-foot cores, the team collected samples of clay spanning a deposition period between 13 million years ago and nearly 102 million years ago. "What's most exciting about this study is that it shows that there are no limits to life in the old sediment of the world's ocean", said D'Hondt.

In a new study, a team of scientists has managed to find the correct conditions and food to revive these dormant microbes in a laboratory.

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