"It was in the oceans that multicellular organisms evolved; their oldest fossils date back to about 2 billion years ago", observes Carl Zimmer in Planet of Viruses. Its center harbors the "oceanic pole of inaccessibility" -the ocean's remotest extreme, aka Point Nemo (meaning "no-one"), famous for being a NASA spacecraft cemetery.
A team led by the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology analysed ancient sediment samples deposited more than 100 million years ago on the seabed of the South Pacific.
Aboard the research drill ship JOIDES Resolution, the team drilled numerous sediment cores 100 meters below the seafloor and almost 6,000 meters below the ocean's surface.
This low concentration means that seafloor sediment in this region forms at a glacial pace of around one to two metres every million years - making it an incredibly harsh environment.
The scientists drilled numerous sediment cores beneath the seafloor and found oxygen present even at very low levels, suggesting that the gas can penetrate deep into the ocean bed. The results demonstrated that rather than being fossilized remains of life, the microbes in the sediment had survived, and were capable of growing and dividing.
"We knew that there was life in deep sediment near the continents where there's a lot of buried organic matter". "It also extends our view of where viable microbial life contributes to carbon and other nutrient turnover in the deep biosphere".
What do you think about the revival of these potentially 100-million-year-old microbes?
Upon learning of their ability to revive and regrow, the researchers are looking to see if there are other applications for their research, including understanding more about how the microbes evolved.
"Unlike us, microbes grow their population by divisions, so they do not actually have the concept of lifespan", he added. "The most exciting part of this study", D'Hondt says, "is that it basically shows that there's no limit to life in the old sediment of Earth's ocean".
Once the microbes, which are a type of bacteria, were put in laboratory conditions, they came back to life and began eating and multiplying, as living things tend to do. A Planet of Viruses.