Posted by: Viktor Mar | 2014 March 18

Antarctic Frozen Moss Brought Back to Life after 1,500 Years

Antarctic Frozen Moss Brought Back to Life after 1,500 Years, BAS

Antarctic Frozen Moss Brought Back to Life after 1,500 Years, BAS (Photo : Esme Roads/ British Antarctic Survey)

Scientists discovered what may be the oldest living plant ever after successfully reviving a frozen moss trapped beneath the Antarctic ice for over 1,500 years.

Working in the remote environment of Antarctica, the British Antarctic Survey along with Reading University revived a frozen moss back to life after over 1,500 years and what is interesting is that it continues to grow.

This is the first time that a crucial part of the ecosystem in both Polar regions has displayed an ability to survive the century to millennial scale ice ages. This finding offers novel insight into the survival of life on Earth.

"This experiment shows that multi-cellular organisms, plants in this case, can survive over far longer timescales than previously thought. 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," explains co-author Professor Peter Convey from the British Antarctic Survey.

The researchers identified regeneration occurring in the moss after 1, 530 years being frozen in the permafrost. This is one of the first studies to highlight the long-term survival in any plant, though similar timescales have been observed in bacteria earlier.

It is known that mosses can survive  extreme environments short term, previous evidence show a 20-year survival timescale. These small plants are a vital of biology at the Polar regions. They dominate most of the areas and are known to be major stores of fixed carbon mainly in the north.

"If they can survive in this way, then recolonisation following an ice age, once the ice retreats, would be a lot easier than migrating trans-oceanic distances from warmer regions. It also maintains diversity in an area that would otherwise be wiped clean of life by the ice advance. 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," explains Professor Convey.

In this study, the team looked at cores of moss trapped in great depths in the Antarctic. Analyzing the frozen moss they suspect it was decades old when it was initially frozen. The cores was further sliced and placed in an incubator to avoid contamination and provide normal growth temperature and light.

They noticed that after a few weeks the moss began growing. The team confirmed the moss to be 1,530 years old based on carbon dating.

Professor Convey adds, "…Understanding what controls their growth and distribution, particularly in a fast-changing part of the world such as the Antarctic Peninsula region, is therefore of much wider significance."

This discovery offers evidence of the slow decomposition rate that is recognized in mosses. Therefore, the growth of mosses should be encouraged worldwide to help curb the accelerating rate of global warming. It acts as a natural carbon sink.

This study was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council.

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