Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Researchers kick-start ancient DNA

Binghamton University researchers recently revived ancient bacteria trapped for thousands of years in water droplets embedded in salt crystals.

For decades, geologists have looked at these water droplets — called fluid inclusions — and wondered whether microbes could be extracted from them. Fluid inclusions have been found inside salt crystals ranging in age from thousands to hundreds of millions years old.

But there has always been a question about whether the organisms cultured from salt crystals are genuinely ancient material or whether they are modern-day contaminants, said Tim Lowenstein, professor of geological sciences and environmental studies at Binghamton.

Lowenstein and Binghamton colleague J. Koji Lum, professor of anthropology and of biological sciences, believe they have resolved this doubt. And they've received $400,000 from the National Science Foundation to support further research on the topic.

Lowenstein's team, which has been pursuing this problem for years, began by examining the fluid inclusions under a microscope. "Not only did we find bacteria, we found several types of algae as well," he said. "The algae actually may be the food on which the bacteria survive for tens of thousands of years."

When Lum got involved, the researchers began to wonder about the DNA of the organisms they were finding.

"You have a little trapped ecosystem," Lum said. "Some of these guys are feeding on other ones trapped in this space. The things that aren't alive in there, their DNA is still preserved."

via Researchers kick-start ancient DNA.

Bacillus permiansOf all the world records profiled on Extreme Science this one has proved to be the most elusive and tricky to keep updated. It seems there are a number of different organisms that hold the record for the "longest lived" and their exact ages are still under investigation. In fact, the only thing we can report for certain is that the records listed here will probably be upstaged by a new discovery in the near future. Below is a listing of what is currently in the literature as some of the oldest organisms still living today:

October, 1999; 250-million-year-old bacteria were found in ancient sea salt beneath Carlsbad, New Mexico. The microscopic organisms were revived in a laboratory after being in 'suspended animation', encased in a hard-shelled spore, for an estimated 250 million years. The species has not been identified, but is referred to as strain 2-9-3, or B. permians.

May, 1995; 40-million-year-old bacteria (Bacillus sphaericus) were found in the stomach of a bee encased in amber. These bacteria were also found in a state of suspended animation and were re-animated in a laboratory. ...

via ExtremeScience

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