This Moss Sprung Back to Life After Being Frozen for 1,500 Years

Older organisms have been brought back from a state of suspended animation, but this is by far the oldest moss to come back to life

Photo: Peter Boelen

In recent years, researchers have had a number of successes at bringing long-dormant creatures back to life. They call this relatively new field resurrection ecology. Usually, the creatures scientists manange to bring back to life were either frozen in ice or else dried up. As The New York Times describes, scientists have revived 32,000-year old seeds, 30,000-year old viruses and 700-year old water flea eggs. 

Now, a sample of 1,500-year-old moss joins that list. Researchers from the British Antarctic Society recovered the sample from Signy Island, a freezing speck of land near Antarctica. Here's Scientific American on how this discovery came about: 

The moss resurrection came about after [ecologist Peter] Convey and his colleagues noticed that old moss drilled out of permafrost on Signy Island looked remarkably fresh. The deeper layers didn't decay into brown peat (a type of decaying organic matter), as they would in warmer spots.

The oldest moss in the core first grew between 1,697 and 1,533 years ago, when the Mayan empire was at its height and the terror of Attila the Hun was ending in Europe and Central Asia.

Curious, Convey and his colleagues decided to bring a sample back with them to the U.K., just to see if anything would happen if they tried to grow it in the lab. Low and behold, with a little warmth and misting, the moss roused itself from its 1,500 year hiatus, springing back to life with new shoots. 

Previously, the oldest moss that had been frozen and then rivived was just about 20 years old. As the Times writes, the researchers were quite surprised. “It was just kite-flying,” Convey joked with the Times

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