Geologists plan to crack open 830 million year old crystal that may contain ancient life

Geologists plan to crack open 830 million year old crystal that may contain ancient life

Geologists plan to crack open an 830-million-year-old crystal of rock salt, which they believe contains ancient microorganisms that may still be alive.

Researchers from the Geological Society of America first announced their discovery of tiny remnants of prokaryotic and algal life inside an ancient halite crystal earlier this month.

These organisms were found inside microscopic bubbles of liquid in the crystal, called fluid inclusions, which could serve as microhabitats for the tiny colonies to grow.

Now researchers want to open the crystal to find out whether or not this ancient life is really still alive.

Although bringing 830-million-year-old life forms back to the modern world doesn’t seem like the most sensible idea, the researchers insist it will be done with the utmost caution.

“It looks like a really bad B-movie, but there’s a lot of detailed work that’s been going on for years to try to figure out how to do it in the safest way possible,” study author Kathy Benison, geologist at West Virginia University, told NPR.

Researchers have found tiny remnants of prokaryotic and algal life inside a halite crystal from the 830 million year old Browne Formation in central Australia.  Pictured: fluid inclusions in halite with microorganisms

Researchers have found tiny remnants of prokaryotic and algal life inside a halite crystal from the 830 million year old Browne Formation in central Australia. Pictured: fluid inclusions in halite with microorganisms

The organisms were found inside fluid inclusions in the crystal, which could serve as microhabitats for the tiny colonies to grow.  Pictured: fluid inclusions in halite

The organisms were found inside fluid inclusions in the crystal, which could serve as microhabitats for the tiny colonies to grow. Pictured: fluid inclusions in halite

The extraordinary find was originally reported in the journal Geology on May 11.

Researchers used a selection of imaging techniques to study fluid inclusions in a piece of halite from the 830 million year old Browne Formation in central Australia.

They found organic solids and liquids that were consistent in size, shape, and fluorescent response to prokaryotic and algal cells.

The discovery shows that microorganisms can remain well preserved in halite for hundreds of millions of years.

This has implications for the search for extraterrestrial life, the researchers say.

It’s possible that similar biosignatures could be detected in the chemical sediments of Mars, where large salt deposits have been identified as evidence of ancient reservoirs of liquid water.

Images of layered halite base slabs from the 830 million year old Browne Formation where the crystal containing the microorganisms was found

Images of layered halite base slabs from the 830 million year old Browne Formation where the crystal containing the microorganisms was found

Map of Australia with the approximate location of the Empress 1A (dark star) core, from which the halite crystal was extracted

Map of Australia with the approximate location of the Empress 1A (dark star) core, from which the halite crystal was extracted

Microorganisms in individual primary fluid inclusions in halite from the Browne Formation, Central Australia

Microorganisms in individual primary fluid inclusions in halite from the Browne Formation, Central Australia

Although it may seem implausible that the microorganisms inside the crystal could still be alive, living prokaryotes have already been extracted from halite dating back 250 million years, so it is not impossible that they can survive 830 million years.

“The possible survival of microorganisms on geological timescales is not fully understood,” the researchers wrote in their study.

“It has been suggested that radiation will destroy organic matter over long periods of time, but Nicastro et al. (2002) found that the 250 million year old buried halite was only exposed to negligible amounts of radiation.

“Additionally, microorganisms can survive in fluid inclusions through metabolic changes, including starvation survival and cyst stages, and coexistence with organic compounds or dead cells that could serve as nutrient sources. .”

Commenting on the scientists’ plans to open the crystal, Bonnie Baxter, a biologist at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, who was not involved in the study, said the risk of triggering an apocalyptic pandemic was relatively low.

“An environmental organism that has never seen a human will not have the mechanism to enter us and cause disease,” she told NPR.

“So personally, from a scientific point of view, I have no fears about it.”

The first life on Earth appeared at least 300 million years EARLIER than previously thought

The first life on Earth appeared at least 3.75 billion years ago – about 300 million years earlier than previously thought, a new study has revealed.

The revelation is based on the analysis of a fist-sized rock from Quebec, Canada, which is estimated to be between 3.75 and 4.28 billion years old.

Researchers had previously found tiny filaments, knobs and tubes in the rock, which appeared to have been made by bacteria. However, not all scientists agreed that these structures were of biological origin.

Now, after further analysis, the team from University College London have discovered a much larger and more complex structure inside the rock – a rod with parallel branches on one side that measures nearly a centimeter long.

They also found hundreds of distorted spheres, or “ellipsoids”, next to the tubes and filaments.

The researchers say that while some of the structures may have been created by chance chemical reactions, the “tree-like” stem with parallel branches was most likely of biological origin.

Indeed, no structure created solely by chemistry has been found quite like this.

Until now, the earliest known evidence of life on Earth was a 3.46 billion-year-old rock from Western Australia containing microscopic worm-like fossils.

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