Bacteria Survive Being Buried for 86 Million Years

Photo: Bo Barker Jørgensen

It may sound like the plot of a Syfy movie, but it's real: scientists have discovered that bacteria can survive being buried for 86-million-years in deep-sea mud.

The scientists jammed a large metal pipe 30 meters into the sea bottom and used a piston to suck out a long column of reddish clay. After hauling the sediment onboard, they probed the core with a needlelike sensor to measure the oxygen concentration in each layer. The researchers knew how much oxygen should have diffused down into each section of sediment from the seawater, so any "missing" oxygen meant microbes had consumed it.

Moving deeper through the core is like moving back in time, studying older and older communities of microorganisms. "We can use the Pacific as a natural experiment that has been running for 86 million years," Røy says.


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