Postprint version. Published in Microbial Ecology, Volume 38, Issue 1, July 1, 1999, pages 58-68. Copyright © 1999 Springer. The definitive version is available online at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s002489900153.
Claims that organisms can be cultured from amber, if substantiated, would be significant contributions to our understanding of the evolution, tenacity, and potential spread of life. Three reports on the isolation of organisms from amber have been published. Cano and Borucki recently reported the isolation of Bacillus sphaericus and Lambert et al. have described a new species designated Staphylococcus succinus from 25–40 million year old Dominican amber. These characterized organisms were phylogenetically distant from extant relatives and the Staphylococcus sp. sufficiently far removed from other extant staphylococci to be considered a new species. Here we report the culture of bacteria from Dominican and previously untested 120 million year old Israeli (Lebanese lode) amber. Twenty-seven isolates from the amber matrix have been characterized by fatty-acid profiles (FAME) and/or 16S rRNA sequencing. We also performed a terminal restriction fragment pattern (TRF) analysis of the original amber before prolonged culture by consensus primer amplification of the 16S rRNA followed by restriction enzyme digestion of the amplicons. Sample TRFs were consistent with a sparse bacterial assemblage and included at least five of the isolated organisms. Finally, we microscopically mapped the internal topography of an amber slice.