Scientists have previously revived microbes stuck in permafrost for tens of thousands of years. But for multicellular organisms like plants and animals, the record for suspended animation has been a decade or two at most. A new study shatters that record.
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.
And the record for getting frozen plant material to start growing again was no more than 20 years. Among animals it’s even shorter: Brine shrimp, aka Sea Monkeys, can be rejuvenated after a couple years in dry, freezing conditions; tardigrades, bizarre little eight-legged, water-dwelling creatures, can be revived after as much as a decade.
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.