Oct. 18 -- In what sounds like something out of Jurassic Park, bacteriathat lived before the dinosaurs and survived Earth’s biggest massextinction have been reawakened after a 250-million-year sleep in asalt crystal, scientists say.
The bacteria’s age easily beats longevity records set by otherorganisms revived from apparent suspended animation — not tomention Hollywood’s Jurassic Park dinosaurs, cloned fromprehistoric DNA encased in amber.
“Jurassic Park was neat, but this beats it hands down,” saidPaul Renne, a geologist at the University of California atBerkeley. “The idea of having a living glimpse of what life lookedlike 250 million years ago is pretty spectacular.”
A Peek Into Prehistoric Past
If the discovery by Pennsylvania and Texas researchers holdstrue, the bacteria could open a window onto a prehistoric worldthat was both dying and being reborn. It would also show thetenacity of life in the toughest conditions.
Its genetic makeup also could help biologists calibrate theevolutionary clock for the bacterium and its present-day relatives,said Russell Vreeland, a study author and biologist atPennsylvania’s West Chester University.
DNA tests indicate the prehistoric germ is related topresent-day Bacillus, a type of bacteria found in soil, water anddust.
“We all feel reasonably comfortable that this particularorganism isn’t going to attack anything,” Vreeland said.
Found Deep, In Salt
The organism was found in a tiny, fluid-filled bubble inside asalt crystal 1,850 feet underground, about 30 miles east ofCarlsbad, N.M.
At the end of the Paleozoic Era, the area was a vast and barrensalt lake. The world was then experiencing its greatest loss oflife ever. Up 95 percent of all marine species became extinct. Thefirst known dinosaurs date to about 230 million years ago.
“The end of the Paleozoic was such a curious time and we don’treally know what happened,” said Renne, who was not involved inthe research. “This offers the possibility that we may be able tointerrogate some of the organisms that were around.”