Scientists are working to uncover the secrets of ancient bacteria that have survived for 3.5 million years in Siberian permafrost.
History is full of our attempts to defeat death and live longer, healthier lives. From medieval potions that promised eternal life to modern experiments with dubious supplements and calorie restriction, we can’t seem to escape our fear of mortality. Now, scientists may have discovered the key to longevity in ancient bacteria buried in Siberian permafrost.
Dr. Anatoli Brouchkov of Moscow State university first found the bacteria, called Bacillus F, on Mamontova Gora in Siberia’s Sakha Republic in 2009. After thawing out, the bacteria came right back to life. The researchers found that the bacteria had survived untouched in the ice for up to 3.5 million years, and yet appeared remarkably youthful. They possessed some type of natural defense mechanism against aging and deterioration.
Initial tests showed that the bacteria can even grant their rejuvenating powers to other organisms: exposure to extracts isolated from Bacillus F dramatically extended the lifespans of fruit flies and mice. As the dosage of Bacillus F increased in concentration, fruit fly larvae actually grew larger and faster. The fruit flies also became more resistant to stresses like heat shock and ultraviolet radiation, prompting the researchers to suspect that Bacillus F somehow stimulates natural mechanisms for repairing damage to DNA and important proteins.
The long-living bacteria had an equally extraordinary effect on mouse models. When injected with the extract, mice lived an average 308 days longer than the control group’s average lifespan of 589 days. Epidemiologist Viktor Chernyavsky also claims that the bacteria improved the fertility of mice subjects: “Mice grannies not only began to dance, but also produced offspring,” he said to the Siberian Times. He suspects that the bacteria synthesize a compound responsible for their long-lasting vigor, and that it can activate the immune systems of other animals to create a similar effect.
Brouchkov announced that his team has now finished decoding the genome of Bacillus F. But this is only the beginning: “We want to understand the mechanisms of the protection of genome, the functioning of the genes. The key question is what provides the vitality of this bacteria, but it is as complicated as which human genes are responsible for cancer and how to cure it.”
A team of researchers under Professor Sergey Petrov at the Tyumen Scientific Centre expanded experiments with Bacillus F to other systems, including tiny crustaceans called copepods and human blood cells. The bacteria strengthened the immune systems of the test subjects. Petrov has also begun to test the bacteria’s effect on crops, with encouraging results: the crops grow faster, produce a greater yield, and are even more resistant to frost. “We can say that the bacteria enhances photosynthesis,” said Petrov.
Further research will reveal how exactly these bacteria work their magic, and which genes are responsible. Petrov has applied for funding to expand his investigation of the bacteria’s impact, particularly on human blood cells. Meanwhile, Brouchkov continues work on sequencing the bacteria’s genes, and may soon untangle the secrets to longevity woven into its DNA.