Ancient Microbes Found Hidden in Crystals

Microbes survived inside giant cave crystals for up to 50,000 years


February 18, 2017


Microbes have been found inside giant crystals in caves in Chihuahua, Mexico. These microbes could have survived there for tens of thousands of years undisturbed. They are not like any other genus known currently and after genetic testing from microbial communities in the caves researchers do not think that the crystals were contaminated by other microbes since the crystal’s formation, confirming the age estimates for the microbes.


This goes hand in hand with the extremophile unit. These microbes survived for thousands of years without any contact with the outside world. The microbes could have also made spores since it is unknown if they were dormant for the entirety of thier time in the crystal or for a portion. Whatever the case researchers were able to wake the microbes up and study them in lab.

Critical Analysis:

I found it intersting when the article was talking about astrobiology becasue before this class I had no idea that was a field. Now that I know about it I can see the need in such a field. I also think that it is interesing how these microbes are like no other on Earth and this could help us find life on other planets.


How will NASA insure that no Earth microbes will make it to other worlds where they are studying life?

A2: Microbes in the News

Article: 7 Alien ‘Earths’ May Be Swapping Life via Meteorites

Link: National Geographic, Mar 22,

Summary: On Feb 23, NASA reported that they found other solar system about 39 light years away from our solar system, called TRAPPIST-1 and some of planets in TRAPPIST-1 have liquid water. This release gave a shock to the world and someone may think that extraterrestrial life is existing now. According to the new research from Manasvi Lingam and Abraham Loeb of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics released on Mar 15 that seven planets in TRAPPIST-1 is condensed around the stellar host so that the seeds of life can jump from one planet to other planet by debris. This research support the theory of panspermia, which maintains the origin of life came from the space to Earth. In TRAPPIST-1, all planets are located close to each other and distance between them is much shorter than the distance between Earth and Mars, so it’s easy to approach to other planets in TRAPPIST-1. Also, three planets out of seven planets may have liquid water and is located in habitable zone, so they think if they have moderate temperature and atmosphere, life can exist there. However, some astronomers are suspicious of this because they think life can’t stand the harsh condition while they are traveling. In the space, there are lots of cosmic rays and they can be exposed for more than million years. In addition, they receive a huge shock when they land on some planets. Though some member in the team says it’s really difficult to survive in the harsh condition, but some organism like extremophiles can overcome it. They don’t find plausible evidence yet, but it is a good chance for us to think about what is panspermia theory and where life come from.

Connection: The idea of ubiquitous is relate to this article. It is also relate to the origin of life(LUCA).

Critical analysis: Discovering of the TRAPPIST-1 was amazing. However, I’m wondering how microbes can jump from one planet to the other. This news said some researchers thinks it’s difficult for some microbes to survive in the space for long time due to UV or cosmic rays. While, other researchers says extremophiles can survive because some has tolerance for UV or heat. I’m suspect for this idea. If microbes can jump to other planet, we can find microbes from meteorites which come to the earth. Inside the meteorites, there are lots of Carbon sources, but their shock when land on some planet or heat can sterile them. However, the distance between one planet to the other is shorter than the distance between the Earth and Mars. Therefore, maybe, if their travel is short, some may survive and land on other planet, but it’s rarely happened.

Question: Why it support panspermia theory? How to jump to other planet from the ocean in the planets in TRAPPIST-1?

A2: Microbes in the News

Article: 60,000-year-old microbes found in Mexican mine: NASA scientist

Link: PHYS,

Summary: The research team from NASA found some microbes which is 60,000-year-old in the Naica mine in Mexico and revived them. Penelope Boston of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute said that in that mine, they found some crystals and inside of that, they found lots of microbes and viruses and they were alive, but they were locked by the crystal. Naika is the mine region and inside the mine, temperature is so high, so those area is extreme environment. When the researchers conducted research, they wore a spacesuit and an ice bag. Then, those microbes and viruses were picked up. They are really different from other well known microbes in terms of genome. It’s 10% difference between them and some microbes which has the closest genome sequence and this difference is like between humans and mushrooms. Those microbes lay dormant in the layer of minerals. Penelope said they adapted to their harsh environment and this discovery is just an one example how organisms in the earth are strong.

Connections: It’s relate to microbial ubiquitous and some extrememophiles.

Critical analysis: This mine is really hot and dark and nutrient are limited, so for almost all of organisms, it’s absolutely extreme environment. However, some microbes and viruses can exist in those environment. I was surprised when I read this article, but I am wondering why genome became different from others due to living inside crystals? This article said they are different like human to mushrooms. However, human and mushrooms are completely different from the shape, complexity, habitat and foods etc and they are microbes, but genome is different at 10%, so I’m confused.

Question: How to survive in the crystal even they can’t move? Why they are totally different from other microbes in terms of genome?

A2: Microbes in the News

Article: Balloon Experiment Reveals Earth Microbe’s Likely Fate on Mars


Summary: To know the limit of what microbes can stand is important for preventing contamination of Mars when our spacecraft arrive. In October 2015, a giant balloon launched to the sky, which is an altitude of 31 kilometers to find microbes which is contaminated and brought by human experiment. Another study found that almost all of bacteria will die within few days by ultraviolet radiation from the sun. David J. Smith of NASA’s Ames Research Center, conducted the experiment ,called the Exposing Microorganism in the Stratosphere(E-MIST), and this experiment brought samples, which is in the phase of endospore from the atmosphere. This result suggests that microbes which stick to a spacecraft to Mars can manage to survive the journey.

Connections: This topic is connected to the idea like “Microbes are everywhere’ even in the atmosphere.

Critical analysis: This article said microbes are dormant or endospores when they are in the atmosphere. However, if they find some microbes, it’s possibly from somewhere in the earth sticked to human made aircraft. Or, if microbes are in dormant or endospores and they are packed by meteorite, the shock is huge when they land on the surface on Mars. Therefore, even they have tolerance for UV, it’s difficult to survive in the space.

Question: How microbes can survive in the space when they are dormant or endospores?

Staying Safe in Space

Date Published: April 17, 2017
Jennifer Tsang

Jennifer Tsang wrote mainly about safeguards with future microbial interactions in outer space. She touched upon safeguards against interplanetary contamination, about how NASA is preparing a lander destined for further investigation of Europa’s saltwater ocean underneath its icy surface (to look for extraterrestrial life, no less), and about their methods on how to handle any possible contaminants on the lander’s outer walls once it comes back from its long voyage.

Human gut microbiota from outer space, according to Jennifer’s research, decrease in diversity and compromise the immune system, which opportunistic pathogens may take advantage of. Bacteria also become more virulent and more resistant to antibiotics while exposed to increased radiation levels and microgravity.

The author actually mentioned L.G. Baas Becking’s Principle of Ubiquity, which states that we can find microbial life everywhere on Earth, in every environment, in every biome, but that certain microorganisms exist only in a particular habitat–“…The environment selects.”

Antibiotic resistance was also touched upon by the author, how in space bacteria actually experience an enhanced resistance against them due to conditions in the environment.

Lastly, this article goes well under the astrobiology category of our curriculum.

Critical Analysis:
This article was interesting to me because of the astrobiological implications of the topics Jennifer Tsang has discussed. I learned that in space, the microbial content in our bodies gets significantly altered in a way that could mean harm to us in the future and may pose a huge risk for future space endeavors, especially for the astronauts involved, who are directly handling the missions.

The author appeared more credible in my eyes once she started putting links to her sources throughout the article.

How do we prevent our gut microbe diversity from decreasing so much that our immune functions gets compromised while in a zero-gravity environment? Is there a way for us to retain them, using our knowledge right now, in order to help our astronauts cope in space?


A2: Lack of oxygen not a showstopper for life
ack of oxygen not a showstopper for life April 17, 2017.
Charles Q. Choi

Summary: Scientists sampled organisms from 15 different hot pools to see how many different chemosynthetic communities are thriving in the springs. The team focused on the oxidants present in communities, and worked on nailing down what type of bacteria are in those communities. They found that microaerophiles dominated mainly planktonic communities. This information helps provide a look at what kind of life may have been present in early earth, and if this life may be possibly survive on other planets.

Connections: In class we have talked about how microbes may have lived in an anoxic environment, and how they evolved with earth’s evolving environment. Eric Collin’s lecture gave an insight on how and why microbes should be able to survive on other planets.

Critical analysis: I like this article because I find it fascinating that so much science can be going on in one of the worlds most natural wonders. People visit Yellowstone all year round just to see these hot springs, and it is so interesting to think that these pools of water can offer so much insight on our environments future and past. I find this article to be accurate because we have learned a lot about how and why archaea that can survive in harsh environments, and how that can be an insight into life on other planets.

Question: This team focused on a small amount of microbial communities and were able to come up with plenty of information. Do you think it is even possible to find, analyze, and classify all of the microbes that could be living in just one hot springs?