scientists are opening an 830-million-year-old crystal that might have life inside it

2 mins
27 May 2022
scientists are opening an 830-million-year-old crystal that might have life inside it

This doesn’t sound risky at all!

image Great Salt Lake Institute

words Louis Staples

These days, just scrolling through TikTok is enough to make some of us (me) feel quite old.

But thankfully even the elders among us don’t have a patch on this 830-million-year-old rock salt crystal. Scientists have just made a huge discovery: they think ancient prokaryotic and algal cells, which might still be alive, are living inside the rock. She’s serving ancient glamour.

Now, they have plans to open the crystal in the hope of revealing whether this ancient life is truly still alive inside. (Which sounds like the plot of a terrifying movie starring Matt Damon, so… good luck, scientists).

First reported in the journal Geology earlier this month, the team made use of different imaging techniques to uncover well-preserved organic solids locked within fluid inclusions, which were inside the 830-million-year-old piece of rock salt, also known as halite. (She has a name, you know!)

These are strikingly similar to cells of prokaryotes and algae, they argue. Since research has indicated that microscopic life can perhaps survive in these environments, even after many years, the team are keen to find out whether these tiny cells might still be alive.

Speaking to NPR, study author Kathy Benison of the West Virginia University, said opening up the crystal will tell the team whether there is still life inside.

“There are little cubes of the original liquid from which that salt grew. And the surprise for us is that we also saw shapes that are consistent with what we would expect from microorganisms. And they could be still surviving within that 830-million-year-old preserved microhabitat,”

She acknowledged the plan to open a 830-million-year-old rock does sound a bit risky. Who knows what could be inside and the effect it could have on humans all these years later?

“It does sound like a really bad B-movie, but there is a lot of detailed work that's been going on for years to try to figure out how to do that in the safest possible way,” Benison added.

Apparently, scientists are confident that an organism this old is unlikely to be well-adapted to infect humans or be harmful. Phew. Let’s hope they’re right.

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