Microbes in the News

Bacterium revived from 25 million year sleep

Article synopsis:
Scientists have revived a prehistoric bacterium from the gut of an extinct bee that was preserved in amber. The bacterium had remained dormant as a spore for 25 million years before being reawakenend by researchers at California Polytechnic University.

Article citation:
"Scientists Revive Very Old Bacteria Entombed In Extinct Bee," Associated Press, May 18, 1995, p. .

Article summary:
Bacteria are capable of surviving through harsh conditions such as heat, chemicals and pressure by turning into spores. When a living bee was trapped in the resin of a pine tree 25 million years ago, the bacteria in its gut transformed into spores, entering a hibernation-like state. The bee was preserved in amber, the hardened form of the resin, allowing scientists the opportunity to retrieve and revive the ancient bacterium from its spore.

Raul J. Cano of California Polytechnic University obtained the amber sample containing the ancient stingless bee, opened it under sterile conditions, located the spores in the bee's stomach, and separated and cultured them. The bacteria revived quickly.

The unique genetic pattern of this ancient microbe is similar to Bacillus sphaericus , a bacterium found in modern bees. B. sphaericus assists the bees' digestive process and also produces an antiobiotic which protects against diseases.

Cal Poly has sold the microbe to a drug company, Ambergene, Inc. of San Francisco. The natural antibiotic produced by this ancient bacterium will be investigated for possible medical applications.

Related article:
Even older microbes have been discovered intact, although they haven't been studied as closely or determined to be unique. See:
Ancient microbes preserved in amber

Information at other sites: Following these links will take you out of the DLC-ME web pages. Please let us know if you are unable to access any of these outside resources.
"Cal Poly Microbiologist Cano Brings Ancient Bacteria Back to Life" is a news release on this topic prepared by Cal Poly Communications. This page includes links to color images of the bee in amber and the bacterium.
"Stingless bee" is one of ASM's (the American Society for Microbiology) web pages. It includes a large color image of the bee and brief information about a related article in ASM News.
"Return of the Living Dead?" is a TIME Magazine article on this topic.

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