A new report details that scientists brought moss that was frozen back to life. They note this is “unprecedented millennial-scale survival and viability deep within an Antarctic moss bank preserved in permafrost.”
A team of British researchers drilled core samples from moss beds on Signy Island, off Antarctica, and took slices from different depths back to the lab. Then they warmed up the samples in an incubator and exposed them to light to see if they could get anything to grow. They weren’t optimistic. The deepest layers from their Antarctic cores were more than 1,500 years old.
To the researchers’ surprise even the oldest mosses in their core samples began to grow new shoots, they report today in Current Biology. Perhaps even older mosses could be coaxed into growing, they write. The oldest Antarctic moss banks are 6,000 years old.
Mosses are pretty good at drying out and freezing and still retaining the ability to rejuvenate. It was not the spores that grew but the gametophytes. This is the long-lived, dominant life cycle form of moss. The characteristic to go dormant is called “cryptobiosis” – it looks dead but is “hidden” “life”. They note that contamination from other spores is low. This finding, which suggests that they can survive even longer than 1500 years, provides “an entirely new survival mechanism and a refugium for a major element of the polar terrestrial biota.”
Just shows, life will find a way. Now, if we can only do this for humans… but we’re a bit less tolerant of freezing than moss.
You can read their report here, it is currently open access.