50,000 Year Old Microbial Life Discovered In Mexican Cave

Posted: Feb 17 2017, 11:07pm CST | by , Updated: Feb 17 2017, 11:21pm CST, in News | Latest Science News

 
50,000 Year Old Microbial Life Discovered in Mexican Cave
Giant crystals inside Naica caves. Credit: CARSTEN PETER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE

Biologsits find unusual life in a Naica cave

In the cave of Naica Mine in Mexico, biologists have discovered strange, tiny microbes trapped inside giant crystals. Biologists estimate that these microbes are at least 50,000 years old.

Microbial life is not new to science. This form of life is remarkably diverse and has been subject of intense research over the year. However, microbes found in Mexican cave have never been reported before. If confirmed, the find is another example of how life can endure and survive in extremely harsher conditions on Earth.

“These organisms have been dormant but viable for geologically significant periods of time, and they can be released due to other geological processes,” said head of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute, Penelope Boston. “This has profound effects on how we try to understand the evolutionary history of microbial life on this planet.”

Located in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, Naica caves are known for their lead, zinc and silver deposits and crystals, some of which are more than 30 feet long. These caves are almost 800 meters deep and have been isolated from rest of the world until a mine company started drilling the place for minerals.

Biologists from NASA excavated the site nine years ago, leading to the discovery of new habitats and unusual microbe species. Some of these dormant microbes are now awake and are genetically distant from anything found on Earth. By looking at where the microbes were located in the crystals and how fast those crystals grow, the team was able to determine the rough age of those organisms. They are somewhere between 10,000 and 50,000 years old.

However, this is not the oldest example of extreme life. For instance, researchers found 250 million years old microbes trapped inside salt crystals in the cavern of south-east New Mexico in the year 2000. But they were not the same as rock or other mineral crystals.

Boston says. "It's simply another illustration of just how completely tough Earth life is.”

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