Environmental Microbiology Reports
Published: October 13, 2020
C-DEBI Contribution Number: 547


Microbes need resources for energy and cellular building material. They also need access to clement conditions with liquid water and a cellular damage rate that is lower than repair. When deprived of resources and clement conditions, microbes often enter some form of dormancy (e.g., by ceasing cell division, slowing metabolic rate, or forming an endospore) until they can grow again (Lennon and Jones, 2011). For example, at night, phototrophs wait for the sun to return. In winter, soil microbes wait for warmer temperatures. Microbes that cause diseases like tuberculosis can stay dormant for years, waiting for the cessation of antibiotic or immune system bombardment (Alnimr, 2015). But what about longer timescales? Unlike multicellular life, microbes survive in an extremely broad range of conditions and can access an amazing variety of resources to maintain cellular functions in the absence of cell division (Finkel and Kolter, 1999). This means that they have the potential to be dormant for much longer than a few months or years. There is no theoretical reason microbes cannot survive on maintenance energy for hundreds or thousands of years, or longer, with little to no cell proliferation (Hoehler and Jørgensen, 2013; Lever et al., 2015). Given this lack of theoretical constraints on the length of microbial dormancy intervals, two questions arise, (i) is there evidence for the existence of organisms experiencing very long dormancies? And (ii) what could be the advantages of such long wait times?