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August 6, 2020

Sedimental Journey

With the right food in the right lab conditions, scientists have coaxed microbes collected from sediment as old as 100 million years to revive and multiply, even after the microbes lay dormant since large dinos prowled the planet. It's the work of a National Science Foundation-funded team at the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography along with researchers in Japan.

Credit: National Science Foundation/Karson Productions

It's been a while.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files -- new advances in science and engineering -- from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: dino roar) From the time when dinosaurs ruled the earth. (Sound effect: deep sea sounds) Under the sea floor, ancient microbes trapped in layers of sediment for a little over a hundred million years. In the South Pacific Gyre [ji-er] -- a part of the ocean with the lowest productivity and fewest nutrients available. These little guys ended up being scooped up by scientists in a core sample.

A team of researchers from Japan and the University of Rhode Island School of Oceanography was asking questions. Could life exist in a nutrient-limited environment? And how long can microbes survive in the near absence of food?

With fine-tuned laboratory procedures, the scientists incubated the samples. To their surprise, 99.1 percent of the microbes -- dormant for a hundred million years -- woke up. Still alive and ready to eat! And grow, and multiply.

Being able to work with the actual live prehistoric microbes is like (Sound effect: tape rewind sound) having your own way back machine. Scientists will be able to see how, or if they evolved. Seems on and below the seafloor -- and all the way down to the underlying rocky basement -- life finds a way.

Back after a hundred million years. I'd say they got some catchin' up to do.

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