(CBS News) Talk about hearty bacteria. A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reports that some bacteria can exist even in extreme "hypergravity." In other words, they can still live and breed despite gravitational forces that are 400,000 times greater than what's felt here on Earth.
But the real importance of the research is in what it suggests: In concluding that the habitability of extraterrestrial environments must not be limited by gravity, the researchers raise the possibility that alien life also might be able to survive after meteorite impacts and take root on Earth.

"Our results indicate that microorganisms cannot only survive during hyperacceleration but can display such robust proliferative behavior that the habitability of extraterrestrial environments must not be limited by gravity," the researchers note in their paper.

There is a body of scientific argument which contends that life on Earth may have come from outer space in the form of microbes which attached themselves to comets and meteorites. While careful not to directly wade into that debate, Shigeru Deguchi of the Japan Agency of Marine-Earth Science and Technology in Yokosuka and the report's lead author said "the number and types of environments that we now think life can inhabit in the universe has expanded because of our study," said Deguchi.

He noted that E. coli tested in the experiments was able to withstand the impact of the equivalent of 7,500 G's. By comparison, humans will black out when hit by forces anywhere between three to five times the Earth's surface gravity.

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