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0.0001 micromoles of oxygen per liter per year
May 19, 2012 7:38 PM   Subscribe

If we look at how fast they metabolize, it would take them a thousand years just to reproduce themselves. They may be much older than this. There’s no way of knowing.

Microbes found deep under the North Pacific Gyre in 86-million-year-old red clay, potentially millions of years old, force us to rethink the timescales, ranges, and conditions that life can attain. (The main text of the paper is unfortunately paywalled.)
posted by jjray (34 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

 
From the paper's abstract:
The cell-specific respiration rate decreased with depth but stabilized at around 10−3 femtomoles of O2 cell−1 day−1 10 meters below the seafloor.
That's about seven oxygen molecules per second per cell. Talk about unimaginably slow.
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 7:59 PM on May 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is clearly far, far outside my area, but what are the confidence intervals on those measurements? I am prepared to be amazed by the precision of the instruments that were used, but skepticism suggests that these measurements do not exceed measurement error.
posted by Nomyte at 8:03 PM on May 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


If anyone wants access to the paper itself, send me an memail with an email address I can send a PDF to.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:04 PM on May 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Their strategy for staying alive is to be barely alive at all.

Interesting - I employed the same strategy for most of my twenties.
posted by ryanshepard at 8:07 PM on May 19, 2012 [20 favorites]


βehemoth.
posted by logicpunk at 8:12 PM on May 19, 2012 [10 favorites]


Same story on NPR, a really decent report which provides some good perspective on how slow this slow really is.
posted by hippybear at 8:16 PM on May 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


From the WT article: Extraordinarily old, bizarrely low-key bacteria have been found in sediments 100 feet below the sea floor of the Pacific Ocean...

That doesn't seem so deep, even for a microbe. Could they have migrated down from the sea floor or been covered over by rapid deposition?
posted by cenoxo at 8:19 PM on May 19, 2012


cenoxo: "That doesn't seem so deep, even for a microbe. Could they have migrated down from the sea floor or been covered over by rapid deposition?"

From the NPR article hippybear linked to:
"If you imagine that a grain of sediment falls on
the surface, it will take a thousand years before the next grain will
sit on top of it," says Hans Roy at Aarhus University in Denmark.
posted by idiopath at 8:22 PM on May 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, I imagine that an organism that eats it's own weight in 1000 years does not migrate very fast.
posted by idiopath at 8:23 PM on May 19, 2012


No,, that's very very deep. "Rapid" is the exact opposite word to use to describe the rate of deposition in that part of the Pacific.
posted by hippybear at 8:24 PM on May 19, 2012


Logicpunk: My first thought as well, that Peter Watts should be told about this.

It's amazing how adaptable and versatile life is; simply incredible the things that living creatures can do.
posted by dethb0y at 8:31 PM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


What occurred to me is how potentially useful these critters can be. Their macromolecules have to be adapted to last on those timescales with minimal repair, so mechanisms for maintaining nucleic acid integrity, enzymes need to not chemically degrade, and their lipid bi-layers need to maintain the appropriate fluidity with minimal effort.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:38 PM on May 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


I am not a biologist. I have seen a few provocative writeups where they have the origin of life inside the very tiny pores of clay, which as I understand it is contrary to the conventional ideas about life originating in open pools of water. We do not yet know. And we may never know in our lifetimes how life came to be. What I have seen about the interstitial clay pore water hypothesis (or whatever the accepted term for this is) has me very interested so far and I am definitely interested in reading more.
posted by bukvich at 8:57 PM on May 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is one of the problems with the concept of carbon sequestration: we don't really know how far down into the Earth's crust life has penetrated, or what effect pumping megatonnes of C02 into an unknown biosphere will produce.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:59 PM on May 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


So are these microbes at all related to facultative anaerobes like halophiles and E coli?

I'm not remembering much from bio, but this is truly fascinating.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:00 PM on May 19, 2012


That's about seven oxygen molecules per second per cell. Talk about unimaginably slow.

Back in my days, we used to only get 5 molecules of oxygen per day. And we had to carry them to school, and leave one molecule for lunch.
posted by rainy at 9:04 PM on May 19, 2012 [15 favorites]


These fuckers found Cthulhu, and thankfully for all of us, he's only a few micrometers tall.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:04 PM on May 19, 2012 [13 favorites]


It's amazing how adaptable and versatile life is; simply incredible the things that living creatures can do.

Endoliths live in rock sometimes far down in under the earth's surface. I seem to remember hearing a report about how they survive on eating certain minerals and excreting more rare minerals. I can't find this quickly online, but it's stuck in my brain for years.

Microbes are much more common and much more pervasive than we can possibly imagine. We continue to discover them in places we had never foreseen. I suspect this is the case throughout the universe.
posted by hippybear at 9:10 PM on May 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Theory: Due to the laws of physics both known and unknown - matter in this universe has a tendency to collect into aggregates, some of which have patterns. Some patterns self-replicate, self-preserve and evolve.
posted by loquacious at 9:39 PM on May 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


This does give perspective to one's life when you think life is moving too fast or the cars in front of you are too slow.
posted by ElliotBoudin at 9:51 PM on May 19, 2012


1000 year sex almost counts as proof of a benevolent god. Go Microbes!
posted by bswinburn at 9:53 PM on May 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


It would take them a thousand years just to reproduce themselves.

They must dread getting calls from their mothers.
posted by bicyclefish at 10:50 PM on May 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


Microbe abides.
posted by Blue Meanie at 11:25 PM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Lazy bastards
posted by zeoslap at 11:39 PM on May 19, 2012


.
posted by flabdablet at 1:15 AM on May 20, 2012


"So how are you today?"

"To be honest, I'm at the end of the spectrum of vibrancy."
posted by Summer at 5:09 AM on May 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


Man, this is exciting news — there's GOTTA be life left on Mars somewhere.
posted by Tom-B at 8:13 AM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


This just furthers my belief that microbial life is fairly common in the Universe. More advanced life, much rarer. Sentient life, rarer still. "Intelligent" (sometimes I think that's an open question on us) civilizations -- very rare indeed.
posted by CosmicRayCharles at 10:08 AM on May 20, 2012


Still, in an infinite universe, "very rare indeed" means the number of intelligent civilizations would be legion.
posted by hippybear at 10:15 AM on May 20, 2012


The paper is facinating, even though I have to stop every paragraph to look stuff up. This discovery is going to move a lot of supposed boundaries for life. It is much more persistent than we imagined. :)
posted by figment of my conation at 10:42 AM on May 20, 2012


If we had powerful enough microscopes, we'd see their tiny tattoos: LIVE SLOW - DIE OLD
posted by Tom-B at 11:08 AM on May 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


1000 year sex almost counts as proof of a benevolent god. Go Microbes!

Heh, bswinburn, but these are almost certainly pre-sexual organisms.

Not even a 1000-year wank-off.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:21 PM on May 20, 2012


Talk about slow, instead of saying 10^-3 femtomoles how about just saying 600,000 O2. Most of us don't work around femto-anythings much.
posted by Twang at 11:49 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I thought it said Microbus found deep under the North Pacific Gyre, which I thought OK, interesting, but 86 million years old made me re-read it.
posted by MtDewd at 6:43 AM on May 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


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