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  • Writer's pictureKirk Hartley

Did Asbestos Fibers and Earthquakes Help Start Life on Earth ??

New Scientist has a brief new online article that poses the question as it builds from an article in a journal titled Astrobiology. The abstract is below for the Astrobiology article that summarizes an experiment testing the hypothesis. ( I love to scuba dive with my two daughters but I’ll bet these fissures are too deep for us to do any on-site investigation.)

Abstract We report the results of our efforts to study the effects of seismic shaking on simulated biofilms within serpentinite fissures. A colloidal solution consisting of recipient bacterial cells (Pseudomonas sp. or Bacillus subtilis), donor plasmid DNA encoded for antibiotic resistance, and chrysotile (an acicular clay mineral that forms in crevices of serpentinite layers) were placed onto an elastic body made from gellan gum, which acted as the biofilm matrix. Silica beads, as rock analogues (i.e., chemically inert mechanical serpentinite), were placed on the gellan surface, which was coated with the colloidal solution. A rolling vibration similar to vibrations generated by earthquakes was applied, and the silica beads moved randomly across the surface of the gellan. This resulted in the recipient cells’ acquiring plasmid DNA and thus becoming genetically transformed to demonstrate marked antibiotic resistance. Neither Pseudomonas sp. nor B. subtilis were transformed by plasmid DNA when chrysotile was substituted for by kaolinite or bentonite in the colloidal solution. Tough gellan (1.0%) promoted the introduction of plasmid DNA into Pseudomonas sp., but soft gellan (0.3%) had no such effect. Genetic transformation of bacteria on the surface of gellan by exposure to exogenous plasmid DNA required seismic shaking and exposure to the acicular clay mineral chrysotile. These experimental results suggest that bacterial genetic exchange readily occurs when biofilms that form in crevices of serpentinite are exposed to seismic shaking. Seismic activity may be a key factor in bacterial evolution along with the formation of biofilms within crevices of serpentinite. Key Words: Biofilm–Chrysotile–Evolution–Pseudomonas sp.–Seismic shaking. Astrobiology 9, xxx-xxx

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