News / Science & Technology

Moss Comes Back to Life After 1,500 Years

The moss banks of Signy, off the Antarctic Peninsula. (Credit: P. Boelen)
The moss banks of Signy, off the Antarctic Peninsula. (Credit: P. Boelen)
Rosanne Skirble
Antarctica is the coldest, driest and windiest place on Earth, but plants can take root there and survive and a new study finds that moss can come back to life after centuries buried in the permafrost.

Signy Island, off the Antarctic Peninsula, is one of the richest wildlife habitats on the frozen continent. Each summer when the ice retreats, it becomes a refuge for penguins and sea birds, and plants - especially mosses - return to life.

It’s here that Peter Convey, a scientist with the British Antarctic Survey, drills through the newly sprouted moss into the frozen ground to extract cores that will help him reconstruct the Earth’s climate history. 

In this study, Convey’s team wanted to know how far back in time - or down the core - the moss retained its ability to regenerate.  Earlier research suggested that frozen plant material could be revived after 20 years at most.

Moss Comes Back to Life After 1500 Years
Moss Comes Back to Life After 1500 Yearsi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X

“So to look at it, we got a core. We sliced it half down the middle, so lengthways, and put the halves in sterile boxes in a sort of standard growth incubator," Convey said. "And it turned out after about three to four weeks you could see some new growth appearing in parts of the core.” 

That regenerated moss dated back 1,500 years. Other studies show that only microbes are capable of revival after so many years. Writing in the Cell Press journal Current Biology, Convey reports seeing plant shoots on the entire length of the 1.5 meter core.   

A close-up of the 1,500 old moss frozen in Antarctic permafrost that regenerates. (Credit: Esme Roads)A close-up of the 1,500 old moss frozen in Antarctic permafrost that regenerates. (Credit: Esme Roads)
x
A close-up of the 1,500 old moss frozen in Antarctic permafrost that regenerates. (Credit: Esme Roads)
A close-up of the 1,500 old moss frozen in Antarctic permafrost that regenerates. (Credit: Esme Roads)
“And you can go further than that if you really want to," he said. "You can look at leaves on the shoot and the leaves are pretty well perfectly preserved down the core as well. So, one of the beauties of this sort of moss core is that you get a live surface, a growing surface. And then as you go down into the core, very quickly it becomes frozen in permafrost.”

The moss survives so long in this deep freeze by building on the tolerance features it developed to flourish in the harsh Antarctic landscape.  Convey says that survival mechanism has special relevance now, in the context of climate change, as the polar regions warm faster than any other part of the globe. 

“Now if we can imagine the situation where a moss bank like this gets covered over by ice, but the moss is viable in the permafrost underneath the ice, then as the ice recedes, you’ve actually got organisms in place that effectively are ready to go as soon as the ice goes away and their habitat becomes available again," he said. "So you’ve got a means of preserving diversity in the region.”

And, Convey asks, if moss can survive 1,500 years locked away in the permafrost, maybe it can last even longer, through interglacial periods of 10,000 years or more.  That's the subject for another study.

You May Like

Pundits Split Over Long-Term US Role in Afghanistan

Security pact remains condition for American presence beyond 2014; deadline criticized More

US Eyes Islamic State Threat

Officials warn that IS could pose a threat to US homeland More

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Moscow says Russian troops crossed into Ukrainian territory by mistake More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: LordSaveUs from: Dongguan,Guangdong,China
March 23, 2014 12:39 AM
how did Peter Convey extract the core and cut it is more interesting than cutting the core to make experiments


by: Anonymous
March 18, 2014 3:11 AM
Are there any tardigrades in that moss?

In Response

by: Anonymous
March 19, 2014 12:33 AM
That was my question too.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocksi
X
George Putic
August 25, 2014 4:00 PM
How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that was eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports on how one band is bringing Yiddish tango to Los Angeles.
Video

Video Peace Returns to Ferguson as Community Tries to Heal

Thousands of people nationwide are expected to attend funeral services Monday in the U.S. Midwestern city of St. Louis, Missouri, for Michael Brown, the unarmed African-American teenager who was fatally shot by a white police officer August 9 in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. The shooting touched off days of violent demonstrations there, resulting in more than 100 arrests. VOA's Chris Simkins reports from Ferguson where the community is trying to move on after weeks of racial tension.
Video

Video Meeting in Minsk May Hinge on Putin Story

The presidents of Russia and Ukraine are expected to meet face-to-face Tuesday in Minsk, along with European leaders, for talks on the situation in Ukraine. Political analysts say the much welcomed dialogue could help bring an end to months of deadly clashes between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian forces in the country's southeast. But much depends on the actions of one man, Russian President Vladimir Putin. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Artists Shun Russia's Profanity Law

Russia in July enacted a law threatening fines for publicly displayed profanity in media, films, literature, music and theater. The restriction, the toughest since the Soviet era, aims to protect the Russian language and culture and has been welcomed by those who say cursing is getting out of control. But many artists reject the move as a patronizing and ineffective act of censorship in line with a string of conservative morality laws. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video British Fighters on Frontline of ISIS Information War

Security services are racing to identify the Islamic State militant who beheaded U.S. journalist James Foley in Syria. The murderer spoke English on camera with a British accent. It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for the Islamic State, also called ISIL or ISIS, alongside thousands of other foreign jihadists. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from the center of the investigation in London.

AppleAndroid