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The world’s oldest living organisms are over 400,000 years old. Which begs the question, if bacteria could talk, what would they tell us?
For nearly a decade, Rachel Sussman has been researching, working with biologists and travelling around the world to record some of the world’s oldest living organisms as a record and celebration of the past and to draw attention to their resilience and help to protect them and ensure that they continue to thrive in the future. Her book, entitled The Oldest Living Things in the World, will be published on 31 March and we’ve included a few highlights below.
When you’re talking about plants of this age, it’s difficult to get perspective. Let’s start by saying that the oldest living tortoise is 175 years old. That means that it was born just after the Spanish Inquisition and just before the Irish Potato Famine. The tortoise and were probably born at about the same time, although it has outlived the artist by 108 years.
But if you think 175 years is old, then check out this 2,000 year old Segole Baobab in the Limpopo province of South Africa. Baobabs get pulpy in their centre and then hollow out, leading to their being used as everything from bars to prisons and public toilets. When this tree came into being, Augustus, the first Roman emperor was still alive. So was Jesus.
If you think that’s impressive, then you should see the Japanese Cedar that inspired Rachel to embark on the project. It’s up to 7,000 years old. When this particular tree came into existence, the population of the whole world would have been around 5 million, less than two thirds of the population of modern day London.
But if you really want to see something mind-blowing, it’s this: a photograph of bacteria found in a soil sample from Siberia. These bacteria are between 400,000 and 600,000 years old. That means that they came into existence around the time that homo erectus colonised Eurasia, and a good 50,000 years before Neanderthals.
If only walls could talk? Pah! Even the Great Wall of China is just 2,300 years old. If only bacteria could talk…