Bacteria can live without food for over 1000 days

Nearly three years without food drives innovative survival strategies

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close up of glowing yellow bacteria against a dark blue and brown background

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Bacteria survive and thrive even in the harshest environments. Scientists have characterized species thriving in Antarctica, and even in deep-sea oil wells. Now, a study published in PNAS in August found that many bacteria can live without food for more than 1000 days. 

Using 100 different types of bacteria, researchers tracked their growth and survival over time. This allowed them to model how long the community could eventually live. Early on, many of the bacteria within a population died out. But the remaining bacteria ate these dead cells. Afterward, the rate of bacterial death slowed as they adapted to low-energy conditions. Over these 1000 days, natural selection drove innovative survival strategies.

The study shows that many bacterial species can survive far harsher conditions than scientists would have predicted. Their persistence could allow them to survive thousands of years. It is also important for learning why certain recurrent infections are difficult to cure, and provides more credence for researchers focused on findings signs of microbial life on Mars. After all, if most microbes can survive without any food, they might be able to persist in even harsher environments on other worlds.