Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union

Time machine: Ancient life on Earth and in the cosmos



The discovery more than 30 years ago of the unique superlong anabiosis phenomenon (deep sleep/dormancy) for ancient microorganisms buried in Antarctic ice deposits created the experimental and theoretical basis for the fields of cryomicrobiology and astrobiology related to searching for life or its evidence in the universe. This discovery is of special interest in light of the upcoming International Polar Year (IPY 2007–2008) and the creation of the U.S. Subglacial Antarctic Lake Environments program (http://salepo.tamu.edu/us_sale).

Abysov et al. [1977, 1978] discovered superlong anabiosis for microorganisms in deep Antarctic ice cores above Lake Vostok when his group found and revived ancient microbes frozen for more than 500,000 years (Figure 1). Previously, only science fiction writers had contemplated a deep sleep/dormancy phenomenon that might allow humans to postpone their deaths by freezing and thus travel in time into the future.