Scientists revive 100 million-year-old microbes - and they start reproducing

Pablo Tucker
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.

The authors of the study said the samples from which the microbes were obtained were collected during an expedition to the South Pacific Gyre a decade ago. They noted that microbes often become trapped in sediment due to the accumulation of organic debris on the seafloor.

The research was led by the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology and published in the journal Nature Communications.


As part of a 2010 expedition onboard the JOIDES Resolution drillship, the crew extracted sediment cores going as deep as 75 meters (250 ft) under the seafloor, which rests just about 6 kilometres (practically 20,000 toes) underneath the ocean's area.

"We knew that there was life in deep sediment near the continents where there's a lot of buried organic matter", said URI Graduate School of Oceanography professor and co-author of the study, Steven D'Hondt, in the statement. "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".

Japanese scientists, after incubating the microbe samples, were able to revive nearly all of the microorganisms.


They found oxygen-consuming microbes (and dissolved oxygen) right by way of every single layer of the cores, from top rated to base, and at each individual internet site they sampled in the South Pacific Gyre. According to Morono, life for microbes in the subseafloor is very slow compared to life above it, and so the evolutionary speed of these microbes will be slower. Researchers further hope to understand evolution of ancient microbes and even get insights into the geological past of the Earth.

Before looking ahead to future research, D'Hondt took time to reflect on Morono's achievement.

Morono says he and his team dated the microbes at somewhere between 13 million to 101.5 million years old. Kenneth Nealson, an environmental microbiologist retired from the University of Southern California who was not involved in the study, tells Science this finding "suggests that learning to survive under conditions of extreme energy limitation is a widespread ability", a useful trick for microbes when food is scarce. A Planet of Viruses.


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