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  • Jurassic Germs


    With the release of the new Jurassic World film, cloning dinosaurs is again a popular theme to be talking about. But what if we already live with “living fossils”?

    Earth is more than 4.5 billion years old and is home to the whole of mankind; in fact we have a long term relationship – 200,000 years! But that is nothing compared to the first bacteria that started to live on Earth around 3.8 billion years ago. Single-celled prokaryotic cells such as bacteria were the first residents on our planet, and were here some time before Dinosaurs.

    “Bacteria were widespread on Earth at least since the latter part of the Paleoproterozoic, roughly 1.8 billion years ago, when oxygen appeared in the atmosphere as a result of the action of the cyanobacteria. Bacteria have thus had plenty of time to adapt to their environments and to have given rise to numerous descendant forms.”

    There are some bacteria that were ‘born’ around the same time as some Dinosaurs and their descendants are still alive today. “In the coldest parts of Siberia, Antarctica and Canada lie soils that have remained permanently frozen for thousands to millions of years. Trapped hundreds of metres down between layers of this frozen earth, known as permafrost, are living bacteria as old as the ice itself.” That is an amazing and a terrifying discovery at the same time. Sadly, a lot of bacteria trapped in the ice are not entirely harmless (for example anthrax, smallpox, etc.).

    Some bacteria have been real troublemakers in ancient times.  According to one study, nickel-eating bacteria may have worsened the world’s worst mass extinction by producing huge amounts of methane. During this “Great Dying”, up to 90% of the world’s species died-off. Fossil-evidence found in the USA bonebed also suggests that carnivorous dinosaurs could die of poisoning caused by bacteria such as botulism.

    Nevertheless, research has discovered that the activity of bacteria may play an important role in how fossils form.  Without them we may not have had fossils to investigate, and may not have known much about the extinct creatures from millions of years ago.

    So perhaps, we do not need to clone prehistoric life forms, because they are still living with us today!



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