Scientists recently announced the tantalizing discovery ancient prokaryotic and algal cells – potentially still alive – inside an 830 million year old rock salt crystal. Now the researchers have spoken a bit more about their recent study and suggested they have plans to open up the crystal in hopes of revealing if this ancient life is really still alive.
Originally reported in the newspaper Geology earlier this month, the team used a selection of imaging techniques to uncover well-preserved organic solids encased in fluid inclusions embedded in an 830-million-year-old piece of rock salt, also known as halite. They argue that these objects look suspiciously like prokaryotic and algal cells.
Crystallized rock salt is not capable of sustaining ancient life on its own, so potential microorganisms are not simply encased in the crystals, like an ant trapped in amber. When rock salt crystals form by evaporation of salty seawater, they can trap small amounts of water and microscopic organisms in primary fluid inclusions.
A video of this amazing crystal can be seen below. Notice how a bubble can be seen in the crystal as the researcher gently moves it – it was in this small, fluid-filled cavity that they found the potential clues to life.
Since previous work has indicated that microscopic life may be able to survive dormant in the fluid inclusions of salt crystals for hundreds of millions of years, the team wants to know if these tiny cells are still alive. urge.
Speaking to NPR, study author Kathy Benison, a geologist from West Virginia University, said they aim to crack open the crystal to confirm if these organic objects are really still alive or if they’re still alive. have perished.
“There are little cubes of the original liquid that this salt grew from. And the surprise for us is that we also saw shapes that match what we expect from microorganisms. And they might still survive over these 830 million years -preserved ancient microhabitat,” Benison told NPR.
While bringing 830-million-year-old lifeforms back to the modern world doesn’t seem like the most apocalypse-proof plan, she’s confident it will be done with the utmost caution.
“It looks like a really bad B-movie, but there’s been a lot of detailed work going on for years to try to figure out how to do it in the safest way possible,” Benison added.
Other scientists agreed with Benison that, if done cautiously and correctly, the feat should not be a problem. After all, an organism that is hundreds of millions of years older than humans is unlikely to be well adapted to infecting or harming us.
“An environmental organism that has never seen a human will not have the mechanism to get inside of us and cause disease. So personally, from a scientific point of view, I have no fear in about it,” said Westminster biologist Bonnie Baxter. College of Salt Lake City, which did not participate in the study.