TG-NEW Mexico-Life forms which have been living inside crystals for up to 60,000 years have been revived by NASA, raising hopes that alien organisms could be found in extreme environments on other planets.

Penelope Boston, the director of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute, and her team have spent years exploring Mexico’s Naica Mine in Chihuahua looking for extremophiles, which contain caves as large as cathedrals.

The mine is filled with giant gypsum crystals which look so extraordinary that when Dr Boston first saw a picture, she assumed it had was a Photoshop hoax.

But more astounding, was that inside the crystals, tiny bugs were discovered in a state of ‘geolatency’ - where living organisms remain viable in geological materials for long periods of time.

“Much to my surprise we got things to grow,” said Dr Boston. “It was laborious. We lost some of them - that’s just the game.  They’ve got needs we can’t fulfill. That part of it was really like zoo keeping.”

Around 100 different bugs, which were mostly bacteria, were found inside crystals, where they had been trapped for between 10,000 and 60,000 years. 90 per cent had never been seen before.

The cave system sits above a large pocket of volcanic magma and is geothermally-heated to temperatures of up to 60C, which has led to astrobiologists dubbing it ‘hell’.

Most life could not survive there but scientists have discovered some organisms have evolved to feed on the sulphides, iron, manganese or copper oxide in the cave.

“They’re really showing us what our kind of life can do in terms of manipulating materials,” said Dr  Boston.

“These guys are living in an environment where there’s not organic food as we understand it. They’re an example at very high temperatures of organisms making their living essentially by munching down inorganic minerals and compounds. This is maybe the deep history of our life here.”

Describing working in the cave she said: “It was a transformative experience...it really felt strange. It was a very hard environment to work in, but tear-inducingly beautiful. It’s like being inside a geode.”