In the year 2514, some future scientist will arrive at the University of Edinburgh (assuming the university still exists), open a wooden box (assuming the box has not been lost), and break apart a set of glass vials in order to grow the 500-year-old dried bacteria inside. This all assumes the entire experiment has not been forgotten, the instructions have not been garbled, and science—or some version of it—still exists in 2514.
By then, the scientists who dreamed up this 500-year experiment—Charles Cockell at the University of Edinburgh and his German and U.S. collaborators—will be long dead. They’ll never know the answers to the questions that intrigued them back in 2014, about the longevity of bacteria.
[Microbiologist Ralf Möller believes that] “life on our planet is not limited by human standards.” Understanding what that means requires work that goes well beyond the human life span.
Physically, the 500-year experiment consists of 800 simple glass vials containing either Chroococcidiopsis or another bacterium, Bacillus subtilis. The glass vials have been hermetically sealed with a flame.
Every other year for the first 24 years, and then every quarter century for the next 475, scientists are supposed to come test the dried bacteria for viability and DNA damage. The first set of data from the experiment was published last month.
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