60-Second Science

Frosty Moss Springs to Life after 1,500-Year Snooze

Long dormant moss has been extracted from the Antarctic permafrost, thawed out and revived. Sophie Bushwick reports


Sleeping Beauty slept for a hundred years. But that's just a quick nap compared with Antarctic moss. They’re the dominant vegetation in polar regions. And now a sample has been revived after lying dormant for at least fifteen hundred years.
Researchers extracted a 1.4 meters long cylinder of permafrost containing Antarctic moss. They then cultivated shoots taken from various points along the length of the cylinder. Many of these shoots flourished, even though they’d been long frozen. And carbon-dating of material alongside the core at the 1.1 meter mark showed it to be from 1,500 to 1,700 years old.
The researchers considered that the ancient sample could have been contaminated with more recent plant spores. But then they’d expect to see multiple moss species. That they found just one species strongly suggests it is indeed the ancient moss springing back to life. The work is in the journal Current Biology. [Esme Roads, Royce E. Longton and Peter Convey, Millennial timescale regeneration in a moss from Antarctica]
The longest known revival for a frozen multicellular organism had been only about 20 years. But these frosty mosses could break that record in their sleep.

—Sophie Bushwick

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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