GREEN
01/14/2011 05:15 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

34,000-Year-Old Life Found Still Alive In Death Valley

34,000 year-old bacteria were found in Death Valley... alive.

A new paper published in the January 2011 edition of GSA Today tells the story of the bacteria, which remained in a virtual "suspended animation" for millennia. "They're alive, but they're not using any energy to swim around, they're not reproducing," Brian Schubert, the bacteria's discoverer, told OurAmazingPlanet. "They're not doing anything at all except maintaining themselves."

From Live Science:

"It was actually a very big surprise to me," said Brian Schubert, who discovered ancient bacteria living within tiny, fluid-filled chambers inside the salt crystals.

Salt crystals grow very quickly, imprisoning whatever happens to be floating -- or living -- nearby inside tiny bubbles just a few microns across, akin to naturally made, miniature snow-globes.

"It's permanently sealed inside the salt, like little time capsules," said Tim Lowenstein, a professor in the geology department at Binghamton University and Schubert's advisor at the time.

In a Seussian twist to the discovery, the tiny ecosystems discovered in this salt crystals seem to be able to maintain themselves, creating a microscopic, self-sustaining environment, according to LiveScience. However, researchers don't quite know how the bacteria managed to stay alive so long, as DNA typically degrades over time.