Scientists Revive 1,500-Year-Old Life Form

Moss dating back to Roman Empire easily returns to life

By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff

Posted Mar 17, 2014 4:07 PM CDT

(Newser) – Have a craving for 1,500-year-old moss? Just dig some up from Antarctic permafrost, expose it to light and healthy temperatures, and presto, you've got moss, National Geographic reports. Scientists from Britain did just that, marking the first time a multicellular organism that old has regenerated so easily. In Current Biology, the scientists say they cut a 4.5-foot, frozen core from a moss bank on an Antarctic island, took it to their lab, gave it warmth and light, and it began sprouting green fuzz in about three weeks.

Why care? Because mosses are important players in the world's ecosystems and store a lot of carbon, particularly in northern regions, Nature World News reports. "If they can survive in this way, then recolonization following an ice age ... would be a lot easier than migrating trans-oceanic distances from warmer regions," says study co-author Peter Convey. "It also maintains diversity" in areas that ice would otherwise wipe "clean of life." Next up, a Canadian scientist hopes to break the frozen-moss record by retrieving 50,000-year-old moss from Baffin Island. (A 32,000-year-old flower has been regenerated before, but it was cloned from a seed and grown in a laboratory.)

A scientist walks along Roosevelt Island, Antarctica.
A scientist walks along Roosevelt Island, Antarctica.   (AP Photo/Nancy Bertler)
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