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

Video Iran Nuclear Deal Becomes US Campaign Issue

Voters in three crucial battleground states - Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania - overwhelmingly oppose nuclear deal with Iran More

With IS in Coalition Cross-Hairs, al-Qaida's Syria Affiliate Reemerges

Jabhat al-Nusra has rebounded, increasingly casting itself as a critical player in battle for Syria’s future More

Lessons Learned From Katrina, 10 Years Later

FEMA chief Craig Fugate says key changes include better preparation, improved coordination among state, federal assistance agencies 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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs