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

On Everest, Helicopters Rescue Stranded Climbers

Choppers transport some of more than 100 mountaineers trapped after deadly quake, avalanches More

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

In 2005, a Paris suburb exploded into violence after two teenagers were electrocuted as they hid from police; since then, somethings have changed, others not More

US, Japan Announce Historic Revision of Defense Cooperation Guidelines

Nations say new guidelines will be 'cornerstone for peace and security' in Asia-Pacific region while also serving as 'platform for a more stable international security environment' 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.
‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europei
X
Henry Ridgwell
April 26, 2015 10:36 PM
Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video ‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europe

Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

January’s terrorist attacks and fears of more to come are casting a spotlight on France’s neglected suburbs. Home to many immigrants, and sometimes hubs of crime, they were rocked by rioting a decade ago. Lisa Bryant visited the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, where the 2005 violence first broke out, and has this report about what has changed and what has not.
Video

Video Gay Marriage Goes Before US Supreme Court

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether gay people have a constitutional right to marriage. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the case could lead to the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage, or a continuation of the status quo in which individual states decide whether to recognize gay unions.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

VOA Blogs