Science Buzz

Ancient microbes found in Cave of Crystals

Cave of Crystals in Chihuahua, Mexico

The Naica mine in Chihuahua, Mexico, yields zinc, lead, and silver — and giant gypsum crystals, some reaching more than 30 feet long, that have made the Cueva de los Cristales or Cave of Crystals famous.

NASA researchers found microbes that thrive on iron, sulphur, and other chemicals, trapped in fluid pockets inside the massive crystals. Analysis suggests that the microbes may have been tucked away in these tiny time capsules for 10,000 to 50,000 years and may have been dormant for some or all of that time. But they “remained viable and were able to be regrown”. The microbes that ended up growing were genetically distant from any known living microbes.
The microbes could represent some of the toughest extremophiles on the planet — dwelling at depths 100 to 400 metres below Earth’s surface and enduring temperatures of 45° to 65° Celsius. Studies like these show that some microbes are hardy creatures, willing to turn just about any habitat into a home.