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34,000-year-old bacteria were found in ancient salt crystals dug up for research from deep below Death Valley - a surprising discovery of sci-fi proportions.

Scientist Brian Schubert made the bacteria discovery after taking a second look at 34,000-year-old crystals that had been originally dug for climate research. What he discovered, according to, was astonishing - ancient bacteria within "tiny, fluid-filled chambers inside the salt crystals."

"It was actually a very big surprise to me," said Brian Schubert.

Because salt crystals grow quickly, they essentially imprison anything that happens to be nearby, "akin to naturally made, miniature snow-globes."

Schubert says the bacteria were suspended in a starvation-survival-mode state.

"They're alive, but they're not using any energy to swim around, they're not reproducing," Schubert said. "They're not doing anything at all except maintaining themselves."

"The most exciting part to me was when we were able to identify the Dunaliella (Algae) cells in there," Schubert said, "because there were hints that could be a food source."

The next step for researchers is to find out how the bacteria, suspended in a hibernation-like state, were able to survive. Additional research may clue scientists in to how microbes repair DNA.