Bug resurrected after 120,000 years

Scientists have brought a newly-discovered bug back to life after more than 120,000 years in hibernation. It raises hopes that dormant life might be revived on Mars.

The new Greenland bugThe tiny purple microbe, dubbed called Herminiimonas glaciei, lay trapped beneath nearly two miles of ice in Greenland. It took 11 months to revive it by gently warming it in an incubator.

Finally the bug sprang back to life and began producing fresh colonies of purple brown bacteria.

Space scientists are excited by the find because it suggests alien creatures might be resurrected on other frozen worlds – especially the Red Planet.

NASA revealed in January that plumes of methane on Mars could be from living organisms. Some scientists believe that any microbes are lying dormant beneath thick underground ice on the Red Planet. A future space mission could dig them up and bring them back to life.

A European orbiting spacecraft, Mars Express, has identified other regions that may have sheltered primitive forms of alien life.

The new Earth bug was found by Dr Jennifer Loveland-Curtze and a team of scientists from Pennsylvania State University.

The team showed great patience in coaxing the dormant microbe back to life. First they incubated their samples at 2˚C (two degrees C) for seven months and then at 5˚C (five degrees C) for a further four and a half months, after which colonies of very small purple-brown bacteria were seen.

The H. glaciei microbe is tiny – ten to 50 times smaller than E. coli. Experts say its small size probably helped it to survive in the liquid veins among ice crystals and the thin liquid film on their surfaces.

Dr Loveland-Curtze says that similar microorganisms could exist on other worlds and studying them in extreme conditions on Earth may provide insight into what sorts of life forms could survive elsewhere in the solar system.

She told Skymania News: “Many scientists consider polar ice on Earth as the best analogue of any extraterrestrial life on other planets, especially where ice has been detected. Polar ice on Earth can preserve microbial cells and nucleic acids for hundreds of thousands of years. Microbial cells have been cultivated from 750,000 years old earth ice and several million years old permafrost.” But she added: ” At this moment we can not say whether any cells, if they exist, can be revived from Mars.”

Earlier bugs found in the Canadian Arctic were brought back to life after 30,000 years. A leading UK Mars scientist believes Martian microbes may also be dormant and waiting to be revived.

Dr John Murray, of the UK’s Open University and a lead scientist for Europe’s Mars Express mission, has discovered compelling evidence of a vast frozen ocean beneath the dust near the martian equator where simple life could have thrived as microbes.

Picture: The newly found Greenland bug viewed through a powerful microscope. (Photo: Penn State).

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Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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