(p. D3) Typically, plants break down into organic matter as they become permafrost. Looking at the ancient moss from Signy Island, however, Dr. Convey and his colleagues wondered if, after centuries of frozen darkness, it could grow again.
It was an unlikely idea. Scientists had not managed to revive moss that had been frozen for more than 20 years. Still, Dr. Convey thought it would be interesting to try. “It was just kite-flying,” he said.
The scientists put a core of Signy permafrost under a lamp in a lab in Britain and misted it from time to time with water. After a few weeks, the moss was sending up new green growth.
The deepest layer in which the resuscitated moss grew was three and a half feet below the surface. Based on radiocarbon tests, as they report in the journal Current Biology, the revived moss turned out to be more than 1,500 years old. It’s been in a state of suspended animation, in other words, since the age of King Arthur.
. . .
In some cases, organisms may naturally revive after thousands of years without scientists’ help. And it’s possible that they play an important role in their ecosystems.
At the end of each ice age, for example, retreating glaciers leave behind bare ground that develops into new ecosystems. Dr. Convey wonders if moss, and perhaps other species, may survive under the ice for thousands of years and revive when the glaciers melt. “That gives you a very different way of understanding the biodiversity of a region,” he said.
While cloning mammoths remains speculative, reviving dormant organisms is now passing out of its proof-of-concept stage. The research could lead to using revival to help bolster endangered species.
“You could use whatever is stored in ice or sediment as a sort of backup for biodiversity,” said Luisa Orsini of the University of Birmingham in England. But, she said, “one has to be really, really careful introducing something from the past.”
For the full story, see:
Carl Zimmer. “MATTER; A Growth Spurt at 1,500 Years Old.” The New York Times (Tues., MARCH 18, 2014): D3.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 17, 2014.)
The academic paper reporting the research summarized above, is:
Roads, Esme, Royce E. Longton, and Peter Convey. “Millennial Timescale Regeneration in a Moss from Antarctica.” Current Biology 24, no. 6 (March 17, 2014): R222-R223.