ice block bacteria

Dr. Julie Palais (left), NSF-OPP Glaciology Program Manager, and Anais Orsi (right) inside a back-lit snow pit at WAIS Divide

Because of global warming, ice sheets in Antarctica are melting and ancient creatures, which have been trapped there for hundreds of thousands of years, are being released into the world.

A well-worn premise for a sci-fi movie? No, actually – it’s happening for real…

The frozen “bacteriasicles,” as Louisiana State University microbiologist Brent Christner describes them, can emerge from the ice after hundreds of thousands of years poised to grow and divide when favorable conditions arise. Christner, an associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, has revived bacteria encased in 750,000-year-old ice.

“When we look in the oldest ice we can get our hands on, we still find there are cells living,” he said.

It’s a big deal, Christner added, because researchers don’t understand how an organism can “sit for 750,000 years in some state of suspended animation like when Han Solo was put in carbonite.”


Image: flickr/U.S. Ice Drilling