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West Virginia University geologists discovered a group of microorganisms dating back more than 800 million years that may still be alive, Futurism reported.
In their paper, scientists wrote that they were initially studying halite salt crystals inside the Browne Formation, an 830-million-year-old rock found in the Australian desert.
Using non-invasive optical methods, the team came across organic liquids and solids on the halite samples that were housing a group of microorganisms. These included single-celled prokaryotes – such as bacteria – and eukaryotic cells, which include salt-loving algae and fungi.
They told USA Today that such microbes residing in halite shrink and greatly reduce their biological activity when host waters become too salty. They added that the prokaryotes have a reputation for surviving millions of years trapped inside halite salt crystals, which means that they could possibly be alive.
Researchers have yet to determine if the microorganisms have a pulse, with other scientists noting that they could be in a dormant stage.
Still, the findings have been described as “a really fantastic snapshot of life 830 million years ago” and could have major implications for the search for life on other planets.
Rock compounds similar to the Browne Formation are abundant on Mars, meaning that Martian microorganisms could be trapped inside halite crystals – and still be alive and kicking.