Antarctic moss returns to life after 1 500 years

2014-03-17 21:09
MV Akademik Shokalskiy still stuck in the ice off East Antarctica, as it waits to be rescued. (Andrew Peacock, AFP)

MV Akademik Shokalskiy still stuck in the ice off East Antarctica, as it waits to be rescued. (Andrew Peacock, AFP)

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Washington - Moss that was frozen for 1 500 years beneath an ice sheet in Antarctica has been brought back to life, marking the longest life span for any known plant, researchers said on Monday.

The study in Current Biology describes the first time moss has been shown to survive for such an extended period of time.

Previously, moss was known to be revivable after 20 years. And bacteria is the only other life form that is known to survive after thousands, even millions of years.

"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," said co-author Peter Convey from the British Antarctic Survey.

Researchers took samples from deep in a frozen moss bank in the Antarctic.

They sliced the moss cores and placed them in an incubator, under temperatures and light levels that would stimulate growth under typical conditions.

The moss began to grow after a few weeks.

Carbon-dating techniques showed that the original plants were at least 1 530 years old.

"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," said Convey.

Read more on:    antarctic  |  environment

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