The bacteria were found in the Rancho La Brea tar pits, according to Science Daily. Several things serve to make this story interesting. First:
To identify the bacteria and their enzymes, Kim and Crowley analyzed the genetics of the bacteria extracted from the tar pits. To accomplish this, they first froze the tar with liquid nitrogen and then pulverized it into a powdery mixture using a mortar and pestle. This process allowed the researchers to extract DNA from bacteria in the asphalt, after which it could be purified by other more standard methods used for environmental samples.
They have not, however, managed to grow many of them in a lab, so extracting the DNA was quite a feat. Second:
“The living bacteria contained in the asphalt are most likely the progeny of soil microorganisms that were trapped in the asphalt, although some may also have been carried to the surface in the heavy oil that seeped upwards from deep underground oil reservoirs,” said Crowley, the research paper’s other author.
According to the researchers, most of the more than 200 species of microorganisms they identified represent entirely new branches in the tree of life, some being classified as new families of bacterial species.
While the bacteria remain to be grown in the laboratory, the researchers found that the closest relatives of many of the bacterial families are able to survive in high salt, toxic, and even radioactive environments.
“One family that was represented by many species is related to a group of bacteria that are the most radiation-resistant organisms on the planet,” Crowley said. “Indeed, this family of bacteria has been previously investigated by the Department of Energy for cleanup of hydrocarbon contamination in radioactive environments.”
The research is published here for those who have access.