Most problems in applied science cannot be solved without experiments, but in some cases this becomes a problem too. For example, how do you answer the question about the life limits of microbes if you already know that they are guaranteed to outlive their researchers? In 2014, a team of German, Scottish and American scientists launched an experiment that will last half a millennium. But the first results have already been obtained.
What happens if you put a population of microbes in isolation for a very long time? It is clear that they will die, but scientists are extremely interested in the nature of this process. Will it happen quickly or slowly? Will everyone die at once or will the strongest live longer? What if some of the microbes sacrifice themselves for the survival of the species? At what rate will extinction occur in the clear absence of external factors? Bacillus subtilis bacteria, which are known for their survivability in extreme conditions, were selected as test subjects.
The bacterial spores in this experiment are divided into equal portions, each placed in one of hundreds of sealed glass containers. According to the plan, the containers will be opened in turn to check the status of the bacteria. During the first 24 years, this will be done every 2 years, because there is a possibility that the viability of the microbes is significantly overestimated. If they last that long, scientists hope to see a transition to a state akin to suspended animation. And then the autopsies will be carried out once every 25 years, until the end of the experiment in 2514.
The first autopsy showed that the bacteria are doing fine and ready to continue the experiment. What can not be said about people - due to disagreements in world politics and society, a threat has arisen for further long-term cooperation. Therefore, it was decided to extend the experiment to its authors. Every 25 years, the previous instructions and observation results will be copied, and the old researchers will transfer the accumulated knowledge base to the young successors. And this is even more interesting than the question of the survival of bacteria: will humanity be able to withstand the burden of responsibility and maintain order in order to complete this unique experiment in 500 years?