Naica Crystal Caves Trapped Dormant Life, Scientists Say

First Posted: Feb 20, 2017 03:50 AM EST

Long-dormant microbes were discovered inside the famous giant crystals of Mexico's Naica mountain caves. Scientists were not only able to extract these life forms but they were able to revive them as well.

According to BBC, the organisms were expected to have been encased in the gypsum crystals at least 10,000 years ago up to a possible 50,000 years. Their resilience is said to demonstrate the ability of life to adapt and cope despite hostile environments.

What made these microbes even more interesting is the fact that they are very extraordinary. Dr. Penelope Boston, the new director of NASA's Astrobiology Institute in Moffett Field, California, noted that they are not closely related to any known species.

The Naica caves have held interest to scientists who have been fascinated by extremophiles -- or microbes that can thrive in near-impossible conditions -- since it was first opened by miners a hundred years ago. The Naica caves' environment is hot (at about 40 to 60 degrees Celsius), humid and acidic. No light was able to penetrate it at any depth. Also, any life form must chemosynthesize in order to survive.

That being said, the newly discovered microbes have a significant effect on people's attempt to understand microbial life. Dr. Boston told the National Geographic that the organisms have been dormant. However, they are still viable for study. She shared, "This has profound effects on how we try to understand the evolutionary history of microbial life on this planet."

Unfortunately, at this point, going back to the caves to collect more samples would be tricky. So to study the organisms more closely, Dr. Boston and her team will have to rely on the cultures previously collected. Most of which is still actively growing.

Dr. Boston also noted that the microbes that her team collected are "a precious resource." She also added that there is still a lot of work to be done for them to infer anything regarding their history, movement and genetic relations.

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