Microbiologists often look for life in extreme places on our planet – from under the ice sheets to inside hydrothermal geysers.  Scientists in the Appalachian Basin struck scientific gold this year, when they went looking for life inside of Hydraulic Fracturing sites – also known as Fracking.

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The process behind Fracking mixes water with sand and chemicals, pressurizes it and fires it into the ground to rip open rocks and free Natural Gas.  And thats how a new bacteria, Candidatus Frackibacter – was discovered, 1.5 miles in the leftover ground.

For almost a year, researchers sampled and grew bacteria from the wastewater of two different wells, miles apart and in different rock formations.  The paper was purchased in September’s Nature Microbiology.  They found that both wells had nearly identical ecosystems, and in both they found C. Frackibacter.

Candidatus Frackibacter

The team also found 30 other organisms already known to science, which they suspect were injected into the fracking wells from ponds on the surface.  Frackibacter, however, was found only in the wastewater, and researchers are suspecting the bacteria is key to creating the well’s current ecosystem.

The team is now sampling other wells, but they’re also hunting for the bacteria in rock cores in clean, untracked sites.

“That would be the real clincher, that Frackibacter is indigenous to the system”
– Kelly Wrighton, Study Co-Author, Microbiologist at Ohio State University

So, how did Frackibacter come to be?  Is it possibly a time capsule, becoming entombed in the rock eons ago, sitting dormant until water arrived?

“I’m hopeful we’ll see other things like it now that we know how to look”

There’s 99 more stories from 2016.  Check out the Best of 2016 series here

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