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Desert Diary


Living forever has been a goal of mankind ever since the first primitive humans realized their mortality. We've looked with envy on redwoods and bristlecone pines, with their life spans measured in thousands of years. And we've spent fortunes on herbs and spells in hope of living forever. All to no avail, but for the lowly bacteria. East of Carlsbad, New Mexico, the Salado geologic formation lies deeply buried, some 250 million years old and rich in halite (table salt to most of us). Shallow Permian-age seas, losing water by evaporation, had precipitated out thick beds of salts, including halite
thus forming the Salado.

Researchers took crystals of salt from the formation, sterilized their surfaces, and used sterile instruments to drill into minute pools of saltwater trapped in the halite. Three out of 66 samples, carefully protected from contamination by modern microorganisms, produced living bacteria, though of course, these results need to be replicated. Not immortality, but at 250 million years, not far from it. Just one drawback—in essence, they slept through it all! Hardly seems worthwhile.
pen and ink


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.



Parkes, J. 2000. Microbiology: A case for bacterial immortality? Nature, 407:844-845.

Web Resources

Halite Gallery