Scientists find ancient life trapped in weird cave In this image provided by Mike Spilde, Mario Corsalini stands near to a gypsum rosette crystal. (Mike Spilde via AP/Penny Boston via AP)
Scientists find ancient life trapped in weird cave
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In a Mexican cave system so beautiful and hot that it is called both Fairyland and hell, scientists have discovered life trapped in crystals. The evidence of life could be 50,000 years old.
 
The bizarre and ancient microbes were found dormant in caves in Naica, Mexico. They were able to exist by living on minerals such as iron and manganese, said Penelope Boston. She is the head of NASA's Astrobiology Institute.
 
"It's super life," said Boston. She presented the discovery at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Boston.
 
If confirmed, the find is yet another example of how microbes can survive in extremely punishing conditions on Earth.
 
Though it was presented at a science conference and was the result of nine years of work, the findings haven't yet been published in a scientific journal and haven't been peer reviewed. Boston planned more genetic tests for the microbes she revived both in the lab and on site.
 
The life forms - 40 different strains of microbes and even some viruses - are so weird that their nearest relatives are still 10 percent different genetically. That makes their closest relative still pretty far away, about as far away as humans are from mushrooms, Boston said.
 
The Naica caves - an abandoned lead and zinc mine - are half a mile 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. Then the team members would have to duck to a "cool" room. It was about 100 degrees.
 
NASA wouldn't allow Boston to share her work for outside review before the Feb. 24 announcement. So scientists couldn't say much. But University of South Florida biologist Norine Noonan said it made sense. Noonan wasn't part of the study but was on a panel where Boston presented her work.
 
"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.
 
The age of the Naica microbes was determined by outside experts. They looked at where the microbes were located in the crystals and how fast those crystals grow.
 
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. These microbes 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.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why is life on Earth “extremely tough and extremely versatile?”
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (10)
  • arianam-
    3/07/2017 - 08:37 a.m.

    Earth is always having different weather patterns all the time, and natural disasters. Humans also ruin the Earth trying to make discoveries or for mining things.

  • nicholash2003-
    3/09/2017 - 08:43 a.m.

    It is “extremely tough and extremely versatile” and because all the things that happen on Earth, the animals that lived here, and much more. Such as weather, natural disaster, and human life.

  • ialexis-dav
    3/10/2017 - 06:56 a.m.


    In response to "Scientists find ancient life trapped in weird cave," I agree that there is more life out in the universe just waiting to be discovered. One reason I agree is that it is likely scientists have been scouring the plant for new forms of life, as well as space, but just in some of the wrong places. Another reason is that the article calls the new microbes "bizarre and ancient" and "super-life". It says in the article "The life forms - 40 different strains of microbes and even some viruses - are so weird that their nearest relatives are still 10 percent different genetically". This could most likely mean that these microbes are very ancient indeed, and have a lot to tell us about the world we live in. A third reason is that it's another new life form to illustrate how tough Earth life is. In the article it says "The evidence of life could be 50,000 years old", and that they had been dormant for who knows how long, but this is very interesting because of the fact that we don't know yet. Even though I do think scientists should look for new life on earth (and space), I think that they may just be looking in some of the wrong places, or they are just there at the wrong time.

  • ochristina-dav
    3/14/2017 - 07:13 p.m.

    In response to "Scientists find ancient life trapped in weird cave," I find it really weird yet interesting that people found microbes living in crystals at Naica, Mexico. I think when Noonan said that life on Earth was "extremely tough and extremely versatile," she was probably hinting at the fact that the large amount of aging microbes found in crystals inside the caves was a example of life on Earth able to change in order to live. The microbes that were in the crystals probably changed over time in order to meet with the basics of their warm and strange environment, "The life forms - 40 different strains of microbes and even some viruses - are so weird that their nearest relatives are still 10 percent different genetically." Also, the microbes were most likely around 50,000 years old as stated in the start of the article which says that the microbes living in those crystals probably were strong and kept on going due to their adaptations.

  • edrew-dav
    3/16/2017 - 05:58 p.m.

    In response to "Scientists find ancient life trapped in weird cave," I agree that there is more life out in the universe just waiting to be discovered. One reason I agree is that it is likely scientists have been scouring the plant for new forms of life, as well as space, but just in some of the wrong places. Another reason is that the article calls the new microbes "bizarre and ancient" and "super-life". This could most likely mean that these microbes are very ancient indeed, and have a lot to tell us about the world we live in. A third reason is that it's another new life form to illustrate how tough Earth life is. In the article it says "The evidence of life could be 50,000 years old", and that they had been dormant for who knows how long, but this is very interesting because of the fact that we don't know yet. Even though I do think scientists should look for new life on earth (and space), I think that they may just be looking in some of the wrong places, or they are just there at the wrong time.

  • jcharles-dav
    3/16/2017 - 08:41 p.m.

    In response to "Scientists find ancient life trapped in weird cave" I think that this was incredible. They have found entirely new microbes that have been thought to not exist. Not only that the microbes that were found are as about as different from their closest relative as humans are to mushrooms. They still aren't allowed to release information to the public which is not good because I want to know more. But their science journal is being peer edited which means soon it might be realized.

  • dmatthew-dav
    3/16/2017 - 09:33 p.m.

    In response to "Scientists find ancient life trapped in weird cave," I say that this is normal. One reason I say this is that we are finding other bacterial substances like the microbe in the manganese and iron like in coral reef sponges. Another reason is that its not one of the oldest form of life which means there probability it was a man made substance. It says in the article 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."A third reason is that most bacterial life can survive extreme conditions. Even though it might be a little unusual, I think it is completely normal for this event to occur.
    _______________________.

  • kadenk-ver
    3/17/2017 - 12:05 p.m.

    Because human beings are destroying are earth with global warming or taking things from earth killing animals and destroying there habitats

  • solomonm-bur
    5/01/2017 - 02:13 p.m.

    Natural disasters, wild animals, and crimes happen. This is definitely why they life on earth is, "extremely tough and extremely versatile."

  • KalisA-pay
    9/27/2017 - 02:15 p.m.

    Life is extremely tough because 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 in Boston.

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