Microbes that may be between 10,000 and 50,000 years old have been revived from the inside of enormous, glittering crystals from a Mexican cave.
The microbes come from the Cave of the Crystals within Chihuahua state’s Naica Mine. This chamber is filled with selenite crystals many yards long that formed over hundreds of thousands of years in magma-heated, mineral-rich groundwater. Inside these crystals are small, fluid-filled pockets, from which researchers cultured organisms that have never been seen before. [See Photos of the Cave of the Crystals]
“What we have been finding are organisms whose closest relatives are also from extreme environments around the world,” said study leader Penelope Boston, director of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute. (Astrobiologists study extreme life on Earth to understand the sort of environments that might be amenable to life on other planets.)
The Naica crystals were discovered by accident in 2000, according to The Naica Project, an organization dedicated to researching and preserving the cave. The formations were accessible only after the company that operated the Naica Mine pumped the groundwater out of the chamber. Even so, reaching the beauty of the Cave of the Crystals was a challenge: The 90 to 100 percent humidity and temperatures ranging from 113 to 122 degrees Fahrenheit mean that humans must wear protective clothing packed with ice bags and leave the cave quickly. The recommendation, Boston told Live Science, is to stay no more than 30 minutes.
“I stayed in once for 55 minutes, which was a giant…