Since 2014, researchers have set out on an unprecedented experiment to keep bacterial spores in jars for five centuries. It is indeed long term for, interrupted only by periods of regular checks. The first set of results obtained have just been revealed.
They saying goes, “Good thing come to those who wait,” and this could not have been more apt than for this experiment which has been conducted since 2014 by an international team of scientists. The deadline for their work? 2514. More than a little patience required.
Surprising as it is, the distant deadline is not merely imaginative. The team made of German, Scottish and American scientists are bent on answering an old question; how long can microbes survive dormancy?
“What is the rate of loss of viability in microbes when they are dormant? What mathematical function describes their rate of mortality over long periods of time? Some die rather quickly, leaving a resilient population able to survive for long period but how much longer?” some of the many questions from the beginnings of the experiment back in 2014.
A glass prison
In response to this multitude of questions, the team enclosed bacterial spores, structures responsible for the resilience of bacteria and able to survive in extreme conditions, of a bacterium called Bacillius subtilise in several hundreds of glass vials. These were then tested by putting them through a series of shock treatments such as irradiation by X-rays and UV light, exposure to dry heat of 120°C or 100°C in a humid atmosphere.
With the experiment thus begun, the vials were left undisturbed for fifty long decades. A penance in truth, with only a few moments of respite in between.
Check-ups every two years
In the first 24 years of the experiment, a few vials will be opened every two years. A biennial sacrifice to monitor the spores and any changes they might have gone through. From 2038, this pace will slow down and limited to around every quarter of a century.
As expected, the experiment yielded its first set of results. And the team recently unveiled them published in the journal PLOS One. “After two years of storage in the [planned] conditions of the five hundred year experiment, there is no significant loss of spore viability,” says the team, pointing out however, that it is still too early for any significant long term findings.
The only way to see then end of this is infinite patience. Researchers and succeeding researchers after them will have to put up with having to wait. “At each of the 25 year deadlines, researchers will have to follow instructions to ensure their sustainability and keep them up-to-date with technological and linguistic progress. Because [their] preservation is of the utmost importance. “Archive” quality paper and ink must be used,” advocate the scientists in a final recommendation to future scientists carrying out the experiment in the future. Patience is certainly the most important virtue, but it isn’t the only one!
Check out the video above to find out more about this extraordinary experiment...