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The 500-Year-Long Science Experiment

Testing the longevity of bacteria

In 2014, scientists started a 500-year experiment to determine the longevity of bacteria.

The experiment consists of 800 glass vials containing either Chroococcidiopsis or Bacillus subtilis that has been hermetically sealed with a flame.

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The 500-Year-Long Science Experiment

The 500-Year-Long Science Experiment

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2019/01/500-year-long-science-experiment/581155/

theatlantic.com

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Key Ideas

Testing the longevity of bacteria

In 2014, scientists started a 500-year experiment to determine the longevity of bacteria.

The experiment consists of 800 glass vials containing either Chroococcidiopsis or Bacillus subtilis that has been hermetically sealed with a flame.

Similar experiments

  • Scientists have been studying how different fertilizers affect the particular crops grown in the same fields year after years since 1843.
  • Agricultural scientists have been carrying out a corn-breeding study since 1896.
  • In 1879, a botanist buried 20 glass bottles of 50 seeds to be dug up at regular intervals and tested for viability.

The long-term plan

For the 500-year experiment to succeed, scientists are supposed to test the dried bacteria for viability and DNA damage every other year for the first 24 years and then every quarter-century for the next 475.

The team left a USB stick with instructions as well as a hard copy on paper. As neither is foolproof, the team asks that researchers will at each 25-year point copy the instructions, so they remain linguistically and technologically up to date.

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