120,000 Year Old Bacteria Found Two Miles Under Glacier

Penn State scientists, led by Jennifer Loveland-Curtze and Jean Brenchley, discovered a 120,000-year-old ultra-small species of bacteria that lives two miles under the ice of a Greenland glacier!

The microorganism's ability to persist in this low-temperature, high-pressure, reduced-oxygen and nutrient-poor habitat makes it particularly useful for studying how life, in general, can survive in a variety of extreme environments on Earth and possibly elsewhere in the solar system. [...]

This new species is among the ubiquitous, yet mysterious, ultra-small bacteria, which are so tiny that the cells are able to pass through microbiological filters. In fact, some species have been found living in the ultra-purified water used for dialysis. "Ultra-small cells could be unknown contaminants in media and medical solutions that are thought to have been sterilized using filters," said Loveland-Curtze.

The ultra-small size of the new species could be one explanation for why it was able to survive for so long in the Greenland glacier. Called Chryseobacterium greenlandensis, the species is related genetically to certain bacteria found in fish, marine mud and the roots of some plants. The organism is one of only about 10 scientifically described new species originating from polar ice and glaciers.

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(Photo: Todd Sowers of Penn State cutting an ice core sample using a bandsaw, credit: Todd Sowers)


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Bacteria and viruses aren't the same thing. A virus is little more than a bit of DNA in a protein shell, they can't reproduce without infecting a host cell to hijack its reproductive machinery; bacteria are single-celled organisms that can reproduce on their own. Also, antibiotics are used to fight bacteria, they do nothing to viruses.
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