The World’s Oldest Living Organisms

Just how long has the world's oldest living thing been on this planet? That would be Siberian actinobacteria, and they've been here for some 400,000 to 600,000 years, longer than our species has existed.

Photographer Rachel Sussman is keeping track of these ancient specimens. She's been photographing organisms that are 2,000 years old and older around the world (nicely mapped out here). There's the world's oldest predator (also the biggest), the 2,400-year-old Armillaria fungus in Oregon, which kills trees. And a 2,000-year-old brain coral off the coast of Tobago. And a clonal creosote bush that's been living in the Mojave Desert for 12,000 years.

Sussman is blogging about her adventures. She's currently in Sicily, trying to figure out the age of an ancient chestnut tree. She estimates she's got maybe two more years to go on the project. Why spend so much time photographing old things? She explains in her recent TEDTalk (above):

The oldest living things in the world are a record and celebration of our past, a call to action in the present and a barometer of our future. They've survived for millennia in desert, in the permafrost, at the tops of mountains and at the bottom of the ocean. They've withstood untold natural perils and human encroachments, but now some of them are in jeopardy, and they can't just get up and get out of the way. It's my hope that, by going to find these organisms, that I can help draw attention to their remarkable resilience and help play a part in insuring their continued longevity into the foreseeable future.

I look forward to seeing what she makes of the project.

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