Mad Science Story of the Week: Scientist Bring Prehistoric Microbe Back to Life

GlacierIt lay trapped beneath Greenland’s glaciers for over 120,000 years, buried more than three kilometers down.  The tiny bacterium remained in icy suspended animation, until researchers from the Pennsylvania State University managed to revive it in the laboratory http://tinyurl.com/lcj2ws .  The scientific team led by Dr. Jennifer Loveland-Curtze reported in the current issue of International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology http://tinyurl.com/l2665a , that they have named the newly discovered organism Herminiimonas glaciei.

 

bacteriumThe bacteria were found in core samples drilled from glaciers in Greenland.  In order to revive it, the researchers warmed the preserved bacteria up to only 20 C, and maintained it there for seven months.  They then raised the temperature to 50 C.  After an additional four and a half months at the warmer temperature, purple-brown colonies of the microorganism began to appear. 

 

H. glaciei is small, even compared to other bacteria.  It is 10 to 50 times smaller than the common E. coli.  Dr. Loveland-Curtze was quoted as saying, “H. glaciei isn’t a pathogen and is not harmful to humans, but it can pass through a 0.2 micron filter, which is the filter pore size commonly used in sterilization of fluids in laboratories and hospitals.”  Scientists think that its tiny size may help it survive in the thin layers of liquid water that exists between the ice crystals where it lives.

 

Because it can live under such harsh conditions, extremely low temperatures, high pressure, with little in the way of oxygen or nutrients, scientists are hopeful that it may offer clues as to where and how life forms may exist on other planets.  Dr. Loveland-Curtze was again quoted, “”These extremely cold environments are the best analogues of possible extraterrestrial habitats.”

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