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Oldest Living Bacteria Are Revived; Organisms Were Locked in Salt Crystal's Pocket of Water for 250 Million Years
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The Washington Post - Washington, D.C.
Author: Sawyer, Kathy
Date: Oct 19, 2000
Start Page: A.02
Section: A SECTION

Presumably, the researchers say, the bacteria went into a dormant state known as a spore (after encasing themselves in protective shells), when the inland sea in which they swam dried up and salt deposits crystallized. Some of the microbes were entombed with a small amount of brine. Their last experience of the world was during the late Paleozoic, a time when all the land mass of Earth was united in a single great continent where the first prototype reptiles were just appearing, some 100 million years before the period evoked in "Jurassic Park." Sharks and other fish, and invertebrates such as trilobites and clam-like brachiopods inhabited the seas.

California microbiologist Raul Cano in 1997 generated global headlines with a claim that he had revived bacteria from spores found in the guts of a bee sealed inside oozing tree resin (amber) about 30 million years earlier. The finding was controversial at first, but the methods were finally rigorous enough that the result has been widely accepted. Now it looks as if that Bacillus will have to relinquish its title to one eight times as old. (A similar finding of organisms up to 125 million years old in amber is regarded as shaky because of possible contamination.)

[Russell Vreeland] and colleagues, lowered into the shaft in a cage, used a hand-held electric drill and coring bit to remove the rock salt. Dozens of samples were rejected because they showed signs of damage that might have allowed contaminants inside. The team then sterilized the surface of the acceptable crystals with strong alkali and acid before they extracted the brine. Equipment was sterilized with steam, and other precautions were taken.

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