Moss Comes Back To Life After 1,500 Years

This moss was around at the dawn of the Roman Republic.

Signy Island

Ben Tullis via Wikimedia Commons

Scientists drilled into the permafrost beneath an old moss bank on Signy, an island northeast of the Antarctic Peninsula, finding a bit of brown moss that had been frozen for more than 1,500 years, according to radiocarbon dating. Just to see what would happen, they put it under a light and misted it. After a couple of weeks, it sprouted and came back to life.

"It's basically the first record of anything regenerating of that sort of age," British Antarctic Survey researcher and study co-author Peter Convey told National Geographic. "There are records of microbes being pulled out of ice cores and permafrost, but nothing that's multicellular has ever been recorded to do it."

The finding raises interesting questions: What if mosses and other plants could come back to life after being exposed following the retreat of glaciers? "That gives you a very different way of understanding the biodiversity of a region," Convey told the New York Times. Or, where can I buy a moss plant that lived at the dawn of the Roman Republic?

The story of the moss, described in a study published in Current Biology, bring to mind other life-forms that have been revived after being frozen, as the Times noted:

In 2012, Russian researchers reported that they found seeds preserved in 32,000-year-old permafrost. Teasing out some tissue from the seeds, the researchers coaxed it to develop into a flower. Earlier this month, French virologists discovered viruses in 30,000-year-old Siberian permafrost that could still infect amoebae.

It also brings to mind these incredible leeches, which can survive immersion in liquid nitrogen, at temperatures of -321°F (-196°C).