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Frozen Bacteria

July 7, 2009

Bacteria trapped in eons-old ice could shed light on extraterrestrial life.


Thawing ancient bacteria. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

A newly discovered bacterium from deep inside Greenland’s ice sheet may shed light on extraterrestrial life. Penn State University scientists cultivated the bacteria from 120,000-year-old ice samples. Biochemist Jennifer Loveland-Curtze says it took a whole year to slowly thaw out and culture the bacteria – which, incidentally, are harmless.

JENNIFER LOVELAND-CURTZE (Pennsylvania State University):
We’re interested to know how bacteria, in particular, can live in conditions that humans might consider to be extreme environments.

In this case, the specimen’s tiny size may help a lot. It means it doesn’t need much to live on, and can fit even in microscopic veins of liquid water trapped inside the ice. It’s believed that bacteria like these might resemble those found on other planets, where life may be similarly challenging. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.