By Jeanna Bryner
After more than 120,000 years trapped beneath a block of ice in Greenland, a tiny microbe has awoken. The long-lasting bacteria may hold clues to what life forms might exist on other planets.
The new bacteria species was found nearly 2 miles (3 km) beneath a Greenland glacier, where temperatures can dip well below freezing, pressure soars, and food and oxygen are scarce.
To coax it back to life, Brenchley, Jennifer Loveland-Curtze and their Penn State colleagues incubated the samples at 36 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) for seven months, followed by more than four months at 41 degrees F (5 degrees C).
The resulting colonies of the originally purple-brown bacteria, now named Herminiimonas glaciei, are alive and well. It is 10 to 50 times smaller than Escherichia coli, the new bacteria likely could more efficiently absorb nutrients due to a larger surface-to-volume ratio. The new bacterium is described in the current issue of the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology.
Another hardy bacterium in the same area that had survived for about 120,000 years as well. Chryseobacterium greenlandensis had tiny bud-like structures on its surface that may have played a role in the organism's survival.