A team of scientists from West Virginia University found microorganisms from a Browne Formation salt rock sample which is 830 million years old. The team researched Neoproterozoic halite using non-invasive optical methods. The non-invasive optical method allows the halite to stay intact during the study and eliminates the risk of contamination by modern organisms. The analysis helps researchers to look into past life and environments.
How did they find it?
Scientists test a sample from the Browne Formation of central Australia salt rock. The rock was drilled by the Geological Survey of Western Australia in 1997. The scientists used a razor blade to split the halite into 1 to 2-millimeter pieces. They used transmitted light petrography to identify halite crystals and fluid that was trapped when the halite crystals formed.
Scientists are able to see what is inside the individual fluid inclusions, including microorganisms such as bacteria, algae, and fungi. After many tests and studies, they said some of these million years old microbes could still be alive. The study was published in the scientific journal of the Geological Society of America.
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How could this be helpful to explore Mars?
Now, after the team of scientists said the organisms are still alive, the fluid inclusions worked as microhabitats for them. A separate study that took place in 2002 showed that microorganisms from rock salt formations 250 million years old can survive exposure to radiation. They couldn’t find life in other samples older than this. But undergoing metabolic changes and using organic and dead cells as sources of nutrients, these organisms can survive even the harshest conditions in the fluid inclusion for many years.
The researchers said that their findings could have implications for research on Mars, which has structurally similar to the Browne Formation in Australia.
“This discovery shows that microorganisms from saline depositional environments can remain well preserved in halite for hundreds of millions of years and can be detected in situ with optical methods alone,”– the paper published in Geology.
This finding and study show that microorganisms from saline depositional environments can continue to exist well preserved in halite for hundreds of millions of years and can be detected in situ with optical methods alone. This study also shows the search for life in both terrestrial and extraterrestrial chemical sedimentary rocks also can succeed in various ways.