The bacteria were never really dead, says Cano. They just transformed themselves into spores, bacterial genes in "suspended animation" encased in a protein bubble. The protein capside shields the bacterial genes (the cells' operating instructions) from extreme conditions like frost, heat, and drought.
The ancient bacteria also had some good luck. Eons ago, they made their home inside a bee's stomach. One day, the bee got caught in sticky resin from a tree. Over time, the resin hardened into a plasticlike substance called amber. Sealed off from light, heat, and moisture, the dead bug--and the bacterial spores inside it--were preserved for some 30 million years.
When scientists recently cracked open the amber, they extracted the spores and put them in a "reviving" bath of sugar and protein. These nutrients soaked into the spores and jump-started the bacteria's life processes. Soon the bacteria started growing again
Scientists have revived spores before, but these are by far the oldest. In fact, these bacteria may now be the oldest living things on Earth--older than the most ancient trees that live for thousands of years.
Some scientists claim that Cano and Borucki's "ancient' bacteria are really modem bacteria that contaminated the amber or the experiment. But Cano says he used sterile techniques to make sure no modern bacteria got in.
Plus, says Cano, it's no surprise that the ancient bacteria "behave much like their modem counter-parts." Bacteria species may not change much in 30 million years. After all, he says, bacteria have been on Earth for some three billion years.
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|Title Annotation:||bacterial spores survive for possibly millions of years|
|Date:||Oct 6, 1995|
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