Underground microbes has almost reached immortality

Last month, the Deep Carbon Observatory announced the astounding fact: the mass of microbes living beneath the Earth’s surface, is from 15 to 23 billion tons of carbon, about 245-385 times the mass of carbon of all people. It is amazing. After all, not so long ago we had no idea that deep beneath the earth life is possible. However, all this did not immediately become noticeable detail, which is more surprising and interesting than the mass of underground life: her age.

How to achieve immortality? Ask the germs

In the late 1920-ies, a scientist named Charles Lipman, University of California at Berkeley, began to suspect that the stones are bacteria. Not fossil bacteria. Live.

He thought about the fact that the bacteria in his laboratory it was possible to resuscitate after 40 years in dry soil in sealed bottles. If they could survive four decades, was there some sort of limit?

Coal was like a stone that is ripe for trials that grew out of the mud bog. He began to push chunks of coal to see if something sprout from the dust. Could.

Coal dust stirred in sterile water, after two or three weeks, he saw something like bacteria. Placing it in a solution containing peptone, food bacteria, it has accelerated the resuscitation time up to five hours.

Curiously, he found that the period of rehydration in fluid for two days was required for recovery. If the crushed coal was wetted, but then immediately placed in the food agar, similar to gelatin in a Petri dish, nothing grew.

Of course, Lipman included precautions to ensure that no pollutants do not cause growth. His draconian procedures for cleaning and sterilization of pre-fragmented pieces included cleaning, steeping, baking, and squeezing lumps of coal in a few hours or days before grinding. In fact, he found that heating the sample for several hours at 160 degrees Celsius does not cause the destruction of bacteria inside the coal. Anyway, he even encouraged them. The longer they baked up to an incredible 50 hours, the better they seemed to grow when coal was subsequently broken. (If the results were genuine, they may not be so surprising given the conditions under which the coal).

Lipman did not believe that bacteria, which he created from coal, was alive in the same sense in which living bacteria in the gut. Rather, he believed that during the process of formation of coal the bacteria have dried up and entered a phase of freezing.

“…Microorganisms that are found in coal, are in fact survivors, prisoners in the coal during its formation from a material which originally was probably very rich in microorganisms, because they were similar to the peat,” he wrote in the Journal of Bacteriology. “I think sometimes scattered masses of coal incidental disputes or some such resistant dormant stage of a microorganism survived the vicissitudes of time and circumstances, and retained a lively character the ability to turn into a vegetable organism, and the ability to multiply in favorable conditions”.

It dried as we now call anhydrobiosis, and it is in this state tardigrades can withstand the vacuum of space and bombarded with radiation.

Coal Lipman came from Wales and Pennsylvania, where part of it was mined at a depth of 900 meters. Pennsylvania coal inspired the name of a whole geological subperiods Pennsylvania.

Him not less than 300 million years.

Was 1931. His colleagues probably thought that Lipman was crazy. But here, in 2019, it looks increasingly likely that he wasn’t crazy. The oldest living things in the world can not be bent bristlecone pine and not old aspen trees, and the tiny microbes trapped in rocks under the surface, whose purpose is not to grow or to reproduce, but simply to cheat death.

More works that have appeared in the last decade indicate that bacteria — many of them in gidratirovannom, active in sediments, in rocks, in the pockets and crevices under the earth — it is old data.

For example, in early 2000-ies scientists found that the speedat which the microbes in aquifers and sediments of breathing, was significantly lower than that of the microbes on the surface. The rate of turnover of biomass is the time required for the replacement of molecules in the cell — was measured in hundreds to thousands of years.

“We don’t know whether the microbes multiply in these underground environments with such slow turnover of biomass,” wrote Frederick Cowell and Stephen D Hondt in the review of the Nature and Extent of the Deep Biosphere of 2013, “or live without dividing millions and tens of millions of years.”

In 2017 appeared in PNAS, the work in which it is shown that two kilometers under the bottom of the Pacific ocean off the coast of Japan, in the coal and shale deposits age 5-30 million years old, discovered the low density of bacteria (although “low” is still 50-2000 cells per cubic centimeter).

And they’re still active, though very slow, lived. The time of their generation varied from months to over 100 years. But this estimate was probably understated. The generation time of E. coli in the laboratory of from 15 to 20 minutes.

The study of microbes living in deep-sea sediments in the South Pacific, 2018, published in Geobiology, it was concluded that the suitability of such sediments is not growth, but survival. The authors came to the conclusion that the only food source for these microbes is that they were buried. The amount of consumed carbon for maintenance and repair during the year was only 2% of its carbon content in the cell.

“The fact that the intact microbial cells are found in this ancient environment, has remarkable consequences for the sustainability of these organisms,” the authors write.

In their computer models that simulate many millions of years, through four million years all the cells have stopped growing. They just put all the resources they could find to keep the old carcass.

How long can this game with zero prize money? Whether, ultimately, the microbes starve? Whether they will accept dry, frozen form, like the one found Lipman? Or it requires special conditions?

The evidence is now accumulating that these lacking nutrients, older bacteria are “microbial zombies.” On the contrary, numerous studies have shown that when the deep underground microbes are placed in a more conservative environment, they quickly come to life.

In General, these findings do not seem to be direct so ridiculous when you consider that microbes buried deep beneath the earth’s surface, protected from cosmic radiation — thick layers of water, sediments, rocks. Muons are present in cosmic radiation reaching the Earth’s surface, can reach only a few tens of meters of rocks. Such radiation continuously irradiates the DNA of organisms living on the surface, leading to their mutations.

The hypothesis of panspermia that life-filled Universe, traveling hitchhiking inside the asteroid, always seemed to be something supernatural. But these findings, together with the recent realization that life could appear on Earth almost immediately, along with the formation of the planet, forced to reconsider this relationship. At least space and a huge, life will find a way.

To summarize, we can say that the crust looks just lousy with single, ancient bacteria, parked in the power saving mode and is ready at any moment to come to life. But what kind of life! Era conducted the funeral in a dark, airless, silent matrix, barely eating, barely breathing, barely moving, barely living. But not the dead.

If Charles Lipman was right, on our planet there are also bacterial cells, which began life over 50 million years before the appearance of dinosaurs that can start again to share tomorrow. This is breathtaking.

However, the price of practical immortality is to remain locked in an underground prison.

Agree, this is not much different from the burial of people.

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