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On June 30, 2514, a future scientist walked into a microbiology laboratory at the University of Edinburgh.
Ta opened a decayed wooden box with the last glass ampoules and a yellowed document. Under the guidance of the document instructions, Ta carefully disinfected the ampoule with alcohol, carefully broken it, and added the medium solution. Next, some dormant bacteria in the ampoule may wake up, adding a final set of data to a 500-year experiment.
If this can indeed happen smoothly, Ta’s old predecessor Charles Cockell would have been very happy-although at that time, Kockel was already dead, and he could not know what the experimental results were.
(Source: Ulrich N et al)
In 2014, microbiologist Charles Koker and his collaborators started a very ambitious long-term plan-they wanted to spend an entire 500 years to do an experiment, from 2014 to 2514.
What kind of experiment needs such a long observation? In fact, it is quite simple: verify how long the dormant body of bacteria can live.
Bacteria always give a short-lived impression, but some bacteria can enter a highly dehydrated and highly resistant dormant state (such as spores) when the environment is harsh, and this dormant body can remain active for a long time. If they encounter a suitable environment again, they can quickly return to active breeding bodies. Scientists have already felt that the “shelf life” of these bacterial dormant bodies is very long, but no one knows how long it is. Only occasionally there are some reports showing that they really can sleep for a long time, for example, some researchers found bacterial spores that can still be recovered from amber from 25 million to 40 million years ago.
In order to solve this simple but still unanswered question, the Kerkel team decided to observe it for 500 years first! So, the researchers selected Bacillus subtilis (Bacillus subtilis) And a Pseudochlorococcum sp. (Chroococcidiopsis) Of cyanobacteria, sealed their dry dormant bodies in 800 glass ampoules. They plan to open some ampoules regularly to cultivate and observe to see if the activity of the bacteria has changed. In the first 25 years, they will take samples every two years, and in the next 475 years, they will take samples every 25 years.
(A glass ampule that encapsulates Bacillus subtilis spores. The pellet is not actually a bacterium, it is a silicone bead used to keep it dry. Image source: R. Möller and C. S. Cockell)
The 500-year experiment itself is not laborious to do. After all, most of the time only needs to be started every 25 years, and the rest of the time only needs to keep the sealed ampoule. The real question is: how can we ensure that scientists will sample on time after hundreds of years?
Five hundred years is really a long time for human beings, and no one can predict how much will happen in the middle. The instructions for the experiment may be lost, the wooden box holding the ampoule may be damaged, and the electronic storage medium may have become completely different. At that time, even the University of Edinburgh did not know whether it was still there…
(What will happen to the University of Edinburgh in 500 years? I don’t know. Image source: www.ed.ac.uk)
What should I do? Should we engrave the experimental procedures on the stone like our ancestors did? Researchers don’t think so. They believe that keeping the time updated is the safer way. The research team requested that while sampling every 25 years, the experimenter should also update and back up the paper and electronic versions of the documents to help these files adapt to the new era.
Of course, even if this is the case, we still can’t guarantee the final fate of this experiment, and we certainly can’t see its final result…
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