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Antarctic moss resurrected after 1500 years frozen in permafrost

"Although it would be a big jump from the current finding, this does raise the possibility of complex life forms surviving even longer periods once encased in permafrost or ice," researcher says.
By Brooks Hays   |   March 17, 2014 at 4:07 PM   |   Comments

March 17 (UPI) -- A handful of people, including the great baseball slugger Ted Williams, have been preserved or "frozen" in liquid nitrogen. As of now, no one has ever been brought back to life.

But even if humans can't be frozen and later brought back to life, moss can. Scientists with the British Antarctic Survey and the University of Reading were able to revive moss frozen for more than 1,500 years.

The researches extracted cores of moss from a frozen mass of organic matter in the Antarctic, and then placed the flowerless green plant in an incubator where it enjoyed ideal growth temperatures and light levels. A few weeks of cozier conditions, and the moss began to grow.

The scientists determined the moss to be at least 1,530 years of age, using carbon-dating techniques.

“This experiment shows that multi-cellular organisms, plants in this case, can survive over far longer timescales than previously thought," explained Professor Peter Convey, a researcher from the British Antarctic Survey who helped carryout the research. "These mosses, a key part of the ecosystem, could survive century to millennial periods of ice advance, such as the Little Ice Age in Europe."

The research was conducted with funding help from the Natural Environment Research Council; the details of the findings were published this week in the journal Current Biology.

"Although it would be a big jump from the current finding, this does raise the possibility of complex life forms surviving even longer periods once encased in permafrost or ice," added Convey.

Even if the findings have little bearing on the future of Ted Williams, the discovery could have an impact on global warming discussions.

“This work provides further evidence of the low decomposition rate generally attributed to mosses," said lead author Dr. Royce Longton, "and strengthens my conviction that the growth of mosses should be encouraged globally to act as a carbon sink and thus reduce global warming.”


[British Antarctic Survey]

Topics: Ted Williams
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