830-Million-Year-Old Salt Crystal Shows Signs of Life


| LAST UPDATE 06/17/2022

By Stanley Wickens
ancient crystal organism discovery
Minakryn Ruslan via Getty Images

Our everyday use of salt typically involves adding flavor to our food or in some cases that are less common, preserving meat. But a team of researchers who discovered one particular crystal in Australia that's nearly 830 million years old are now using it to study biology...

Scientists suspect there may be microorganisms as old as the crystal itself living inside. Strange as it may sound, it turns out there's scientific evidence to back the theory. "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," noted Kathy Benison, a geologist at West Virginia University. "And they could be still surviving within that 830-million-year-old preserved microhabitat." She went on to explain that if these microorganisms are still alive, they might be dormant. 

crystal liquid microorganism discovery
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Considering the fact that a global virus is currently on the loose and has caused problems worldwide for the past three years, it may not sound like the best idea to crack that ancient crystal open. But according to Benison, there's no need to worry about it. "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," she explained.

Other scientists agreed that an organism living in the crystal is highly unlikely to be a threat to humans. "An environmental organism that has never seen a human is not going to have the mechanism to get inside of us and cause disease," explained Bonnie Baxter, a biologist at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, who wasn't involved in the study. "So I personally, from a science perspective, have no fear of that." She also mentioned that the discovery takes us a major step forward in studying evolutionary biology. Not only that, but it could also help us study life on other planets. "When we're thinking about Mars, we're talking about billions of years, probably, since microbial life could have been flourishing in the waters on that planet. And so we really need longer experiments in rocks that have been around longer on our planet in order to understand what could happen on Mars," Baxter said. We'll be staying tuned to find out what secrets this ancient crystal holds.

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