I couldn’t find a picture of the supposed bizarre Mexican cave microbes so enjoy this art, perhaps by Alex Ries. Anyway, in the hot gigantic crystal caves near Nica, Mexico, according to Penelope Boston, NASA’s Astrobiology Institute head, “bizarre and ancient” microbes were found and they have now been revived.
The life forms found trapped in crystals could be 50,000 years old. She called the creatures “super life” and said they are like time machines. More genetic analysis will be done, which I believe is a good indication that the microbes have not yet sprouted into the creatures in the illustration. There is absolutely no reason, yet, to suspect the newly discovered microbial super life is able to morph into giant water walking space bugs.
The Naica caves – an abandoned lead and zinc mine – are half a mile (800 meters) deep. Before drilling occurred by a mine company, the mines had been completely cut off from the outside world. Some were as vast as cathedrals, with crystals lining the iron walls. They were also so hot that scientists had to don cheap versions of space suits – to prevent contamination with outside life – and had ice packs all over their bodies.
Boston said the team could only work about 20 minutes at a time before ducking to a “cool” room that was about 100 degrees (38 Celsius).
NASA wouldn’t allow Boston to share her work for outside review before Friday’s announcement so scientists couldn’t say much. But University of South Florida biologist Norine Noonan, who wasn’t part of the study but was on a panel where Boston presented her work, said it made sense.
“Why are we surprised?” Noonan said. “As a biologist I would say life on Earth is extremely tough and extremely versatile.”
This isn’t the oldest extreme life. Several years ago, a different group of scientists published studies about microbes that may be half a million years old and still alive. Those were trapped in ice and salt, which isn’t quite the same as rock or crystal, Boston said. …
It’s not the only weird life Boston is examining. She is also studying microbes commonly found in caves in the United States, Ukraine and elsewhere that eat copper sulfate and seem to be close to indestructible.
“It’s simply another illustration of just how completely tough Earth life is,” Boston said.
I’m looking forward to learning more when NASA releases it.
“Other people have made longer-term claims for the antiquity of organisms that were still alive, but in this case these organisms are all very extraordinary — they are not very closely related to anything in the known genetic databases,” Boston said at the conference.
The caves themselves are amazing and otherworldly:
Creatures that thrive on iron, sulfur, and other chemicals have been found trapped inside giant crystals deep in a Mexican cave. The microbial life-forms are most likely new to science, and if the researchers who found them are correct, the organisms are still active even though they have been slumbering for tens of thousands of years. …
The microbes are adapted to survive in the extreme environments inside the Cave of Crystals, part of the Naica mine in the northern state of Chihuahua. Operations to haul up lead and silver involved pumping groundwater out of the vast underground caverns, which revealed a labyrinth of massive milky-white crystals, some reaching more than 30 feet long. …
Boston took samples from pockets of fluid trapped inside the crystals in 2008 and 2009, under the auspices of New Mexico Tech. Her team was able to “wake up” dormant microbes in that fluid and grow cultures… The organisms are genetically distinct from anything known on Earth, according to her team’s analysis, although they are most similar to other microbes found in caves and volcanic terrain.
How do they know these aren’t just from contamination during operations in the cave?
Boston notes that her team took a variety of steps to try and avoid contamination, including wearing protective suits, sterilizing their drills, and sterilizing the surfaces of the crystals with hydrogen peroxide and, in some cases, fire.
“We have also done genetic work and cultured the cave organisms that are alive now and exposed, and we see that some of those microbes are similar but not identical to those in the fluid inclusions,” Boston says. That gives the team additional confidence that they are seeing organisms from inside the crystals.