Dormant Microbes Discovered in Giant Cave Crystals

Monday 20th February 2017

Scientists studying the Naica Crystal Caves, Mexico have discovered, and revived, long dormant bacteria found in the giant crystal shafts of the caves. The microbes, which had been encased in shafts of Gypsum, are estimated to have been within the crystal for 10,000  to 50,000 years. According to Dr Penelope Boston, director of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute, the organisms are not closely related to any known microbes in the genetic database.

The caves were first opened by miners around 100 years ago by miners looking for silver and other metals, and are of key interest to scientists studying extremophilic microbes; that is to say microbes which are able to survive in extreme conditions. The caves are very hot (40-60 C), humid and acidic. No sunlight penetrates deep into the caves, and so the organisms must be chemosynthetic, relying on elements such as sulfur and iron to metabolize. Several species of Archaea and Bacteria were found in the cave, and previous research had shown the presence of viruses in the microbial ecosystem. This discovery has key implications in the search for extremophilic extraterrestrial life forms, which could be very similar to these hardy microbes.

Image Credit: Mike Spilde