Rock salt helps bury microbes 830 million years old (it may still be alive!)

It could be bacteria or algae trapped in minerals hundreds of millions of years ago.

You can read that in the magazine Geographyஆய்வு This study revolves around rock salt that appeared about 830 million years ago and was found in Brown formation in Central Australia. “Mineral rock salt is formed when there is an excess of sodium and chloride ions in a solution,” explains researcher Sarah Schrder-Gomes. From. “When there are more ions in a solution and the concentration point is reached, solid minerals are formed.” Those minerals have a crystalline structure. That is, they have the usual shape of particles: sodium and chloride ions in this case. “However, when rock salt crystals grow rapidly, defects can form in those crystals and a little water can get trapped in the structure of the crystal.” Some of those trapped liquids also contain solids, such as microorganisms that live in the water near the rock salt crystal formation.

Bacteria or algae
This is what researchers found in rock salt recovered in Australia. “Based on their size, shape, and color, microorganisms can be classified as prokaryotes (bacteria and / or archaea) or eukaryotes (perhaps mosses or fungi),” Schrder-Gomes said.

This is a significant finding. “We were not too surprised to find the presence of microorganisms in the rock salt from the Brown formation,” the researcher said. “But we were very excited about it. Previous studies have already found microorganisms in modern rock salt and old rock salt that are 250 million years old. It is noteworthy that we were able to find microorganisms in such ancient minerals and they are well preserved!

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Because the microbes must be trapped in the rock salt when it is formed, they must be as primitive as the minerals. Researchers write that the minerals appeared 830 million years ago.

It is not possible to say for sure what kind of microorganisms are involved. It can be bacterial, but it can also be algae or fungus. However, in the context of the environment in which the unfortunate microbes lived millions of years ago, researchers think that something more can be said about the nature of small organisms. For example, we need to keep in mind that crystals trapped by microorganisms are formed in very salty water. So now the microbes found in crystals can be classified as Extremopiles. These are creatures that live under extreme conditions. However, it is not certain; For example, microorganisms may be deposited in very salt water by air. If so, they are not Extremopiles, but ‘normal’ microbes that end up in extreme conditions.

Liquids trapped in rock salt containing microorganisms can be found here. Image: Sarah Schrder-Gomez.

However, one thing is for sure: microbes could not escape from the crystal system and are still trapped in it – 830 million years later. This sounds like a tragic story. But Schrder-Gomez says it’s not yet certain whether all point microbes have died in solitary confinement. “It is possible that these organisms are still alive – but not possible. Some of the holopilic (salt-loving) organisms we know today have survival mechanisms that help them survive even when conditions are unfavorable (e.g., when less nutrients are available). For example, they put their metabolism behind the burner. We do not yet fully understand how microbes – especially microbes in saline environments – can survive so long. In previous studies, researchers sometimes isolated bacteria from rocks 250 million years old and then cultured them.

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That series of studies is pending, and whether microbes have been imprisoned for millions of years remains a mystery. But even if they all die, it remains an enigmatic discovery. Because what this teaches us is that the microbes in the rock salt have been consistently well preserved for hundreds of millions of years. It offers opportunities. For example, in the search for extraterrestrial life on Mars. Today’s planet is dry and cold and does not directly attract life as we know it, but it may have been different in the past; There is ample evidence that the planet was wet and hot. If there were microbes on Mars at that time (which may be extinct now), minerals might be a good place to look for them. “Mars is home to a collection of minerals and rock formations, similar to what we see in brown formation,” Schrder-Gomez explains. And those minerals are sometimes imperfect and contain water. And if those water microbes are clogged, they may still be trapped in that crystalline structure for identification. “Potential biological signatures can be stored in this way and can be detected if water trapped in the earth can be explored.” So the impact of the work of Schrder-Gomez and colleagues could extend beyond Earth. “The age of the rocks (studied for research, edition) is important,” Schrder-Gomes insists. “Because it shows that traces of life here on Earth – and on Mars – can still be found hundreds of millions of years later.”

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