830 million year old organisms found in ancient salt crystal

(ORDO NEWS) — Organisms 830 million years old have been found in an ancient salt crystal. Not only can these tiny lifeforms be brought to life, but the technology used to analyze them will help in the search for “ancient aliens“.

Single-celled microorganisms lived almost 1 billion years ago in a shallow salt lake or sea. A team of scientists have discovered ancient life forms in pockets of liquid trapped inside halite (rock salt) crystals collected in southwestern Australia. The next step is to determine if these cells are alive and then resuscitate them.

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Liquid inclusions in halite with microorganisms

Breaking old world paradigms with delicate technology

Study co-author Sarah Schroeder-Gomez conducted this research project while in the Department of Geology and Geography at West Virginia University.

The professor told Live Science that this is not the first time microorganisms have been found in ancient salt crystals. However, until now, the oldest specimens known to science date back to the Permian period, about 250 million years ago. The new samples are about 830 million years old.

New samples of halite were obtained from the Australian Brown Formation. Traditionally, such crystals have been analyzed by a destructive method: the crystals have been broken to reveal their contents.

This method has always been problematic because materials of different ages around the samples mix and confuse the results. However, in a new research project, the cells were carefully extracted from their salt tombs using microscopic syringes.

Australia really is a treasure island

4.4 billion years ago, during the formative years of the Earth, billions of tons of minerals were trapped in ancient geology in what is now Western Australia. Countless tons of gold, iron, nickel, heavy mineral sands, diamonds and bauxite are found in abundance in Australia, along with underground oceans of liquid gold – oil.

Located in a geological region known as the Ophir Basin, the Brown Formation is several kilometers deep and is composed of compressed shale and mudstone. Therefore, geologists have calculated that billions of years ago this area was a tidal or lagoonal environment.

A team of researchers drilled deep into the salt-rich Brown Formation and took a series of “thin halite samples 1 millimeter (0.04 in) thick” at depths ranging from 1,481 meters (4,858 feet) to 1,520 meters (4,987 feet).

Exploration of 830 million year old microcaves

The diameter of ancient microorganisms ranges from half a micron to 5 microns. For reference, one micron is only 1/1000 mm (1/25,000 inch), and the human eye sees dust particles as small as 25 microns. So the researchers used a 2000x loupe to peer into the 830-million-year-old pockets inside the salt crystals.

Examining the microcavities, the scientists found organic solids and liquids that “matched the size, shape and fluorescent response of algae and prokaryotes, simple single-celled organisms.”

The halite was then analyzed using visible and ultraviolet light, allowing the researchers to identify and classify “eukaryotes (algae and fungi with distinct cell nuclei) and prokaryotes (bacteria and archaea without nuclei)”.

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Microorganisms in individual primary fluid inclusions in the Brown Formation (central Australia) halite from an Empress 1A core

The earliest microbes (microscopic organisms) on Earth known to scientists are found in rocks that are about 4 billion years old.

All of these cells contain the type of carbon molecule that is produced by all living things today. Schroeder-Gomez said microorganisms can live dormant in salt, and the plan is to break open the crystal and find out if the 830-million-year-old life forms are alive or not.

Study author Kathy Benison, a geologist at West Virginia University, told NPR that bringing ancient life into the modern world “may not seem like the smartest idea.”

However, according to the researcher, such experiments will be carried out with “the utmost care”, as work has been going on for many years “to figure out how to do this in the safest way.”

New cellular technologies in search of “ancient aliens”

The Australian Brown Formation rocks formed in conditions similar to ancient Martians, and that the Perseverance rover is collecting rocks that will one day be brought to Earth.

Therefore, new non-destructive methods of analysis, developed to study the 830-million-year-old salt crystal, can help in the “search for ancient aliens,” says Dr. Schroeder-Gomez. However, these aliens will likely not be grays or reptiles, but rather “long-extinct microorganisms from the Red Planet,” Schroeder-Gomez concluded.

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