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

As US Strikes Syria, China Sees Parallels at Home

Beijing is debating how much support to give international coalition against IS militants and trying to figure out how many Chinese nationals may have joined group overseas More

CDC: Ebola Could Infect 1.4 Million by January

US health officials say if efforts to curb the outbreak are not increased, cases will soar dramatically by early next year More

Video USAID Provides $231 Million for Girls Education in 5 Countries

US Agency for International Development partners with celebrities to call attention to importance of education for girls worldwide 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.
NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbiti
X
September 22, 2014 9:20 PM
NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbit

NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video For West Ukraine City, Conflict Far Away Yet Near

The western Ukrainian city of Lviv prides itself on being both physically and culturally close to Western Europe. The Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country are 1,200 kilometers away, and seemingly even farther away in their world view. Still, as VOA’s Al Pessin reports, the war is having an impact in Lviv.
Video

Video Saving Global Fish Stocks Starts in the Kitchen

With an estimated 90 percent of the world’s larger fish populations having already vanished, a growing number of people in the seafood industry are embracing the concept of sustainable fishing and farming practices. One American marine biologist turned restaurateur in Thailand is spreading the word among fellow chefs and customers. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Chinese Admiral Key in China’s Promotion of Sea Links

China’s President last week wrapped up landmark visits to India, Sri Lanka and Maldives, part of a broader campaign to promote a new “Maritime Silk Road” in Asia. The Chinese government’s promotion efforts rely heavily on the country’s best-known sailor, a 15th century eunuch named Zheng He. VOA's Bill Ide reports from the sailor’s hometown in Yunnan on the effort to promote China’s future by recalling its past.
Video

Video Experts Fear Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid