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Antarctic moss brought back to life after being trapped in ice for 1,500 years

Last Updated: Tuesday, March 18, 2014 - 14:41

Washington: Researchers from the British Antarctic Survey and Reading University have shown that moss can come back to life and continue to grow even after being frozen in Antarctic ice for over 1,500 years.

For the first time, this vital part of the ecosystem in both polar regions has been shown to have the ability to survive century to millennial scale ice ages. This provides exciting new insight into the survival of life on Earth.
The team observed moss regeneration after at least 1,530 years frozen in permafrost . This is the first study to show such long-term survival in any plant; similar time scales have only been seen before in bacteria.

Mosses are known to survive environmental extremes in the short-term with previous evidence confirming up to a 20 year time scale for survival. Their potential to survive much longer time scales had not previously been examined.

Mosses are an important part of the biology of both polar regions. They are the dominant plants over large areas and are a major storer of fixed carbon, especially in the north.
The team took cores of moss from deep in a frozen moss bank in the Antarctic. This moss would already have been at least decades old when it was first frozen. They sl iced the frozen moss cores very carefully, keeping them free from contamination, and placed them in an incubator at a normal growth temperature and light level.

After only a few weeks, the moss began to grow. Using carbon dating, the team identified the moss to be at least 1,530 years of age, and possibly even older, at the depth where the new growth was seen.

The research is published in the journal Current Biology.

First Published: Tuesday, March 18, 2014 - 14:41

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