Scientists Bring 1500 Year Old Moss Back to Life

Scientists Bring 1500 Year Old Moss Back to Life

Scientists report that moss that was frozen on an island in the Antarctic for over 1,500 years was brought back to life inside a laboratory in Britain. The lush growth is the first time that a plant has been resuscitated after being in such a long freeze, stated the researchers. Because of this, there is the possibility for there being even longer moss survival periods from freezing, if mosses are covered by glaciers during a long ice age. Some of Antarctica’s oldest known frozen mosses are believed to date back date back nearly 5,000 years.

One of the research study’s co-author’s, Peter Convey, who works as an ecologist with a British Antarctic survey stated that the reviving of the moss was the very first instance of any plant or animal that has survived being frozen for longer than just a few decades. The findings were printed up in the current edition of the journal Current Biology.

The moss was taken from the Signy Island, which is a tiny, glacier covered island in the Drake Passage. It sits just off of the Antarctic Peninsula. On the Antarctic coast and also islands, the dense, plush moss thrives on all different kinds of bird droppings. It also acts similar to the rings of trees, with the moss layers creating clusters that record the changes in conditions of the environment, such as both dry and wet climate changes

The moss revivification came about after Convey and his team happened to notice that ancient moss which was drilled out of the permafrost on the island seemed to look unusually fresh. The deeper layers had not decayed to brown peat, which is a kind of rotting organic matter, as the moss would in spots that were warmer.

Convey explained that in North America, there is living moss that is on the top of dead peat. All anyone finds is wet, black sticky matter. However, when one looks at the moss from Signy Island, the bottom is in a well preserved state.

So to test whether the Antarctic moss would start to grow again, scientists grabbed out moss that had cores which contained frozen soil, plants and ice. In order to avoid contamination, they swiftly covered the mossy tubes in plastic and sent them back to Britain while at freezing temperatures. In the lab, the researchers cut up the various cores and began to grow new moss inside an incubator, straight from shoots that were preserved inside the ice. They also did carbon dating on the different sheets, which gave an estimate of age for the resuscitated moss.

They found that the oldest moss first started to grown around 1,600 years ago. This was about the same time as when the Mayan kingdom was at its height and  Attila the Hun’s reign of terror was just coming to an end in Central Asia. While inside the lab, the moss began to send out brand new shoots from its roots, explained the researchers. Because the growth was straight from the preserved moss, and the exact same species, it was declared as being extremely unlikely that spores from any other plants had contaminated the samples.

Convey said that he and his group could not be 100 percent positive that there was no contamination, but they had very strong evidence it was the same moss. He added that when looking at the moss under a microscope, it was able to see new shoots growing out from the old shoots. They were strongly connected.

Researchers recently proposed that Antarctica’s volcanoes could have produced enough heat to give protection for various life forms  during the Earth’s coldest climate changes, when the ice ages would send the continent’s glaciers way out into the ocean and ice would also covers the land. But species such as moss and insects are unable to get to warmer climates when the ice moves, because they are imprisoned by the vastness of the Southern Ocean. The moss apparently found a survival method.

Repeating, scientists report that moss that was frozen on an island in the Antarctic for over 1,500 years was brought back to life inside a laboratory in Britain. The lush growth is the first time that a plant has been resuscitated after being in such a long freeze, stated the researchers.

By Kimberly Ruble

Sources:

The Christian Science Monitor

International Business Times

Scientific American Magazine

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