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The underground life forms that have taken over Centralia

The underground life forms that have taken over Centralia


– [Narrator] Centralia,
Pennsylvania is a ghost town. Nearly 3,000 people used to live here, but these days it’s almost
completely abandoned. And it’s pretty eerie, but that’s okay because what we’re looking for is actually in the soil. Some 100 meters below us an underground fire is burning away. It’s what turned Centralia
into a ghost town. But while almost all of
the people have fled, some tiny microbes have appeared. Among them, thermophiles,
critters that live at super hot temperatures. We’re hoping to collect some thermophiles and grow them in our studio. We’ll look at what happens to
life in extreme environments. – I think we should take a sample here. – [Narrator] And we’ll get a glimpse into what microbes might be hiding in soil all over the world, waiting patiently for a calamity to call their own. – Oh yeah, you can actually feel… there’s a little bit of steam. I don’t think the cameras can pick it up. – [Narrator] Our mission
today is to collect a couple types of microbes from the soil: bacteria and archaea. We’re working in the
footsteps of a researcher from Michigan State
University named Ashley Shade. She’s the principal
investigator on a recent paper that looks at microbes here in Centralia. It’s an effort to understand what happens to microbial communities
when, for example, the ground itself catches
fire and burns for decades. – And so the big premise, the big question was about how did those systems respond and are they capable of recovering from such a sledgehammer of a disturbance? – [Narrator] The story
of what happened here is dramatic. Centralia was a mining town, but the coal mine that supported it was largely exhausted by the 1960s. The fire actually had
nothing to do with mining. In the summer of 1962,
some burning garbage at a nearby landfill ignited the coal seam that remained under the area. This set off a massive subterranean blaze that proved extremely
difficult to contain. The fire encroached on
the town year over year, venting dangerous gas into the air, and ripping fissures in the local highway. – I think now you can tell why
they closed the highway down. – [Narrator] People began to
flee in earnest in the 1980s, and today, the government has relocated almost all its residents. What happened in Centralia was disastrous, but it also set in motion the science we’re here for today. – The vegetation has changed. It doesn’t look like
it’s that much different, but you can feel the ground, it’s much softer than it was
on the other side of the road. – [Narrator] Once we were all set up, we sterilized our tools and got to work. Finding active fire areas is tricky because again, the fires are underground, so we basically looked for hot soil. – Unfortunately, there’s no steam ’cause it’s not cold enough outside, but this would be a good
candidate for a place, I think, to take a soil sample. – [Narrator] We hiked around a little. – I want to go take some readings in here. – [Narrator] We hitched
a ride to a sinkhole from a guy in an off-road vehicle, and we generally combed over
the area from Ashley’s study. – So we’re at the St.
Ignatius cemetery now. A lot of the papers that we read talked about the “turquoise zone,” which is the ridge just
north of the cemetery, and that’s where they found a
lot of the hottest readings, so we’re going to go take a
couple samples from that zone and see what we can find. – [Narrator] But site after site, and reading after reading,
we didn’t find much. – It’s kind of cool right now, but I think we should take a sample. This ain’t it. Alright, I’m getting colder over here. Maybe the fire is finally
gone after all these years. (laughs) I don’t think that’s the case. – [Narrator] We were hoping for soil that was maybe 40 or 50 degrees Celsius, but we kept finding 15 to 20. It was barely warmer than the air, so we called Ashley’s
research assistant Keara for help in real time. – [Keara] What I was kind
of hoping maybe… would be to just get into video chat
and have you look around or something. What might work is if you
just kind of be the eyes and I can walk you to some places. It’s all just stuff
that lives in my brain. – You’re on camera. – [Keara] Oh hello, hi! – It’s an adventure. – [Narrator] Keara led
us to a couple new spots. – [Keara] Somewhere up
ahead and to the right. – [Narrator] We dug a little deeper, and finally found some promising soil. – Now I’m getting a reading
of about 27 degrees Celsius. That goes pretty deep in there, too. – [Narrator] Now 27 degrees
Celsius might be low for finding thermophiles, there are plenty who thrive
in places twice as hot, but it was abnormally warm for
Pennsylvania soil in March, so we grabbed some
samples, put them on ice to keep the microbes at rest, and headed home to grow them. – So the first step to
regrowing our microbes is getting them out of the soil, and that part’s pretty easy. We just mash up the clumps,
add some distilled water to create slurry, and shake everything up. – [Narrator] Once the slurry settles,
there should be plenty of microbes floating
around in the water. This part’s trickier. We dilute the sample by different amounts, and grow a petri dish full of
microbes using each dilution. The idea is to grow
enough microbes to study, but not so many that they’ll
take over the petri dish. With our samples prepped, we spread a bit of
liquid from each dilution onto a petri dish filled
with nutrient-rich gel. We’re growing microbes from
a couple hot soil areas and also from a place that was never exposed to Centralia’s heat. That’s our control group. – Ashley and Keara did grow
some microbes of their own just like we’re doing, but it gives them a pretty incomplete
picture of what’s there. – So that’s because we can’t culture 99 percent of the bacteria and
archaea that are found in soil just because we don’t know how to, we’re unable to bring them into the lab. – [Narrator] It’s a mystery that lots of scientists puzzle over. Many microbes just refuse to
grow in a lab environment. So Ashley’s team resorts
to higher tech methods. – What we do is we extract
all of the DNA from the soil, and then we sequence it. And we use that sequencing information to put together whole genomes of organisms that lived in that soil. – By sorting
through all the DNA present, they can look for trends in the samples. Ashley’s team collected samples from a range of temperature
areas in Centralia. Places that were hot, others
that cooled back down, and others still that were never affected by the fire. That way they could sniff out
correlations between things like temperature and genome size. – [Narrator] Our final step is to
pop all of these samples into our incubator. We’re going to grow them at
around 55 degrees Celsius for two to three days. Some samples might take longer. After three days, we checked
our little microbe oven. – Oh, so gross, oh. – [Narrator] And we got to
work filming the samples so we could ask Ashley
and Keara what we found. Again, this isn’t quite how Ashley did it. Once her team sorted through their DNA, they checked it against
available DNA libraries, and a surprising amount
of the DNA they found is a mystery. – I’d say about 30 percent of what
we find is unclassified. We know that they’re bacteria or archaea, but we don’t know anything
else other than that. – [Narrator] For the
record, bacteria and archaea are domains of life, which is basically the broadest category. – And so that’s like basically saying “I’ve identified this organism, but I don’t know enough about it to tell whether or not it’s a jellyfish, a human, or a tree.” – That said, they are learning
a ton from their collections. One big takeaway is that the
thermophiles they found tended toward smaller genome sizes and smaller cell sizes. It’s not totally clear why, but one popular theory is that it’s just easier to maintain smaller
hardware at higher temperatures. – And so the idea is if
you can keep your cells small, you are going to benefit by not having to spend so much energy just maintaining all of your cell parts, which are kind of getting more wobbly at
the higher temperatures. – So what exactly did we find? Well first, our hot samples grew a lot more than our cold control group did, and there’s a logic to that. We regrew all the samples
at a pretty high temperature and the microbes that
seemed happiest with that came from the hot soil. But overall, eyeballing
microbial life is tough. Keara was pretty confident
that these structures here are bacteria, but it’s hard
to say much more than that. This is exactly why DNA sequencing is where most of the science happens. There may well be thermophiles growing in these petri dishes, but we’ll need a lot more
tech to point them out. After this whole process,
our biggest question was “Okay, Centralia caught fire and a bunch of microbes
appeared to capitalize on that, but where on earth did they come from?” There wasn’t nearly enough
time for the microbes here to evolve a heat tolerance,
so what’s going on? – This is a question that a lot of people are curious about because
you can find thermophiles in the coldest, weirdest
places on the planet Earth. You can find them in
the permafrost, right? You can find them in the
deep ocean cold sediments, you can pull out some thermophile spores and resuscitate them at hot temperatures. – Ashley’s guess is that these microbes have been in Pennsylvania,
dormant for a long time. Where they originally came from and when is a total mystery, but it
suggests that wherever you look, there might be dormant life that thrives in extreme temperatures. And as the planet warms, these questions become more pertinent. Even a couple degrees
could change the dynamic within microbial communities
all over the world. That might not be disastrous, but it’s worth understanding. If every community has
its optimum temperature, we could see spikes all over in microbes that are doing the same thing the thermophiles in Centralia did: lying dormant and waiting. – That’s a good way of talking about it. They are definitely playing the long game. – We should make an executive decision if I’m using Fahrenheit or Celsius. I’m all over the place. I’ll keep this on Celsius. I just… when I see 24,
it’s going to be a (bleep)ing disaster to edit. (laughs)

83 thoughts on “The underground life forms that have taken over Centralia”

  1. We’ve looked at a bunch of tiny things in our videos recently. What BIG experiments would you like to see us tackle next?

  2. I noticed the huge fans… now we know why they evacuated the town. Not fires underground. There was no actual proof of hot soil..Right?

  3. That would be called the mutating flu,Ya see.. You took it home, Then you are going to thought in your trash, Then your landfill locally is going to be full of these growing as theres high heat from the break down of the trash.And the man who works there walks on it then gos home,. Then he goes on vacation and so on.

    You people who play scientists do as much harm as you do good

  4. If it's an underground fire, they should use it as an underground rubbish incinerator as all the pollutants would be absorbed by the soil and not released into the atmosphere.

  5. I have lived in pa my whole life. Granted i live in erie. But in all 22 years of my life i have never heard of this place in PA. This is very sad.

  6. Asteroids. Look up…not down. They populated Earth from Asteroids. Thus, lifeforms do exist "in space."

  7. What is the point of this? How about do more research on how to stop the fire….it would be more useful than this stupid project.

  8. Can we figure out what kinda gas the life forums exhaust? Did they maybe help give us oxygen 100 Million years ago and possibly be sitting dormant for the next time they are needed like our pending global warming?

  9. I heard about a research team studying thermophiles in Iceland. Then, they went back to the US, took some samples off of boilers in suburban homes, and found the same bacteria and archea.

  10. These, and their sistren, are what created the majority of today's oil reserves. As Starman would say, "Don't Panic", as, other bugs, that like to eat "these" bugs, also lie dormant, just beside them.

    The wonderful thing you learn about Life, the Universe and Everything (by learning about science), is that energy is conserved; all things great and small move toward equilibrium, no matter what conditions are imposed upon them.

    Uniformitarian news publishes a story once every 3 million years (random choice if long time frame), and waiting fir the next story does require patience, beyond human understanding!

    That's why "meteorites killing dinosaurs" is more interesting! 85% of dinosaur species were extinct LONG BEFORE THE END OF THE CRETACEOUS!

  11. Always choose Centigrade. It's not science if you're using Fahrenheit. Kelvin is also acceptable since it's based on an actual zero point.

  12. Good day! I have a question to ask. I am a grade 10 student from the Philippines and I was wondering if you can help us on our research. It is about a cyanobacteria called Arthrospira platensis. Me and my group of student-researchers wants to figure out if we can produce an energy conducting paint with the use of the said cyanobacteria. We hypothesized that if we combine it with regular paint it can survive but if not we would have to alter the components of the paint for the bacteria to adapt.

  13. Obviously this implies that if there was life on Mars, it could still be there, waiting for another organism to provide a sustainable environment to allow it to grow. What are we humans waiting for ???

  14. The gift of God to this enlightened age is the knowledge of the
    Oneness of mankind and of the fundamental Oneness of religion.
    War shall cease between nations and by the will of God the Most
    Great Peace shall come; the world will be seen as a new world,
    And all men will live as brothers.

    (Abdu'l-Baha, Abdu'l-Baha in London, p. 19)

  15. I don't want to blow your tiny minds, but: you need to get a KJV Bible, open it and read Genesis 2:5 'And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground.

    6 But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground.'

    These two verses explain your thermophilics? 

    No rain but lush vegetation watered by mist aka dew?

    Russian and German deep drilling confirm superhot water just a few kilometers down.

    God put underground heating to make Earth warm and productive and it is logical that He designed thermophiles able to live in such warm soil.

  16. Completely randomly I ended up on this video only cuz I saw "centralia" and somehow it was still related to the previous video I watched: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qbdx2nOQKKo (the °C vs °F clip from this vid was referenced there)
    Welcome to the YouTube bubble.

  17. Very interesting, and stick to Celsius, the rest of the world does! It is likely we only know less than 10% of bacteria, which was a quote to me by a senior technician in 1974.

  18. So could i use my computer to grow microbes? Or what is my processor is already full of microbes? 😱

  19. Not being a rocket surgion or nuffin, but if you were looking for microbes that thrive in super hot environments? Shouldn't you have grow them in extreme temperature? Especially in the control if you're trying to prove her hypothesis.

  20. Does this video mention that extremophiles are ubiquitous? You can literally go into your back yard and find 12 different kinds. They don't 'evolve in place' when necessary, they simply thrive with no competition should SHTF, making them more noticeable when everything else dies.

  21. More music and much louder because you seem nothing important have to say – or do you? Then make your voice as much intelligible without meaningless distracting music and noisy background.

    NoSecret Humus Research https://sites.google.com/site/humusresearch/

  22. This town was what Silent Hill was based on. Rural anytown America completely abandoned due to underground flames and toxic fumes. Very cool.

  23. 6:35 someone didn't learn to never smell directly any specimen or chemical always waft towards you plus bacteria always smell bad

  24. Epigenetics explains where the heat-resistant bacteria came from. The bacteria that existed before the fires always had the ability to adapt but that ability never expressed itself because the environment never called for it. It's not evolution, its epigenetics.

  25. Oh my God, you roll the bottom of your jeans up tightly around your ankles lol. I haven't seen that since I used to do it when I was in school back in the 80s.

  26. Could the thermophiles in question have come up from a deeper area of soil? Are thermophiles found in seams of minerals or at depth in mines?

  27. I live about 35 miles from Centrailia. It’s a very interesting area, not much to see but the history behind it is very interesting. Been there too many times to count lol

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