Have ancient bacteria been awakened by an industrial accident?

Have ancient bacteria been awakened by an industrial accident?

nNew types They are generally found rather than awakened. They are usually discovered in remote places such as rainforests or Antarctic plateaus. But this is not the type of bacteria described in a just-published paper Extremists. As Russell Freeland and Heng-Lin Choi, the authors of the paper, point out, this glitch is new to science. But it is not new on Earth. In fact, the microbe may have been asleep for millions of years before an industrial catastrophe woke it up.

The bacteria in question live below Lake Bignor in south Louisiana. The land under the lake is rich in natural resources. In 1980, it boasted a mine producing rock salt, while a drilling rig operated by Texaco moved to the surface in search of oil. But on November 20, the two operations came together in a fortuitous, astonishing way. An oil rig drilling rig has penetrated the third level of the salt mine, creating a drainage at the bottom of the lake.

Over the next few days, the resulting sinkhole swallowed the oil rig, 11 barges, a tugboat, 35 hectares of land and part of a house. The channel that drains the lake into the Gulf of Mexico began flowing backwards as water levels dropped, briefly creating the tallest waterfall in Louisiana, while muddy geysers erupted from the mine shafts. Somehow, all 50 people working in the mine managed to get out before the flood waters rose.

An official report was unable to determine whether the oil driller was drilling in the wrong place, or whether the mine maps were inaccurate. In both cases, the disaster created an entirely new environment. The water flowing into the mine contained less than 2% salt. But rock salt dissolves easily in water. When Dr. Freeland, then at the University of New Orleans, was given access to part of the flooded mine in 1987, he found that the water inside contained 32 percent salt, about nine times more than seawater.

For most creatures, this amount of salt would be fatal. But Dr. Freeland found a type of bacteria, which belongs to a salt-loving group called… Halobacteria, in his samples. The insect grows best in water containing 18% salt, and dies when concentrations drop below 10%. Since bacteria cannot survive in the lake, how did they get into the water in the mine?

Since he had only a small laboratory, and relatively few resources, Dr. Freeland decided to put the puzzle aside and move on to other projects. However, during a visit to China in 2016, he met Dr. Choi, another expert on salt-loving microbes, and decided to return to his cold state.

In the intervening years, scientists have discovered that some bacteria possess exceptional abilities to maintain themselves. When times are tough, you can go into a form of stagnation, stopping all biological activity until things improve. The salt at the bottom of Bijnor Lake is formed from the evaporation of a previous mass of salt water. Some of the salt is 125 million years old, meaning it was laid down during the heyday of the dinosaurs. Researchers point out that the new species belongs to the pre-Flood era, literally and figuratively. It was there before the mine was flooded, is trapped in water pockets within salt crystals, and may have been there for millions of years.

It is difficult to test exactly how long bacteria can remain in a state of suspended animation, because experiments cannot last more than a few decades. But Dr. Freeland claimed nature In 2000, he and his colleagues succeeded in reviving another salt-loving bacterium that was 250 million years old. A study published last year said that in some circumstances, particularly resilient species are called upon Deinococcus radiodurans It may be able to manage 300 million years in stasis.

Dr. Freeland suggests that conditions in the salt mine may have helped these latter species as they existed over eons in relative safety. One of the problems that a sleeping organism faces is the gradual accumulation of damage to it DNA. Oxygen is one source of this damage. But the element is not found within rock salt crystals, and is only very slightly soluble in salt water. Ultraviolet light poses another danger, but none of it penetrates underground.

Background radiation can also damage the genome. But the only radioactive atom present in the brine is potassium-40. With a half-life of over a billion years, it is only moderately radioactive. And bacteria that live in harsh environments, including Halobacteriacontains a lot of DNA-Protect proteins to prevent damage. Now, thanks to a human error, Dr. Freeland’s bacteria have been given an entire mine to live in, where they can finally reap the rewards of their amazing patience.

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