We’ve all found wrapped-but-unlabeled steaks that have been buried in a deep, dark crevice of a freezer for an unknown number of years and have attempted to revive them to a state where they can be grilled and served with copious amounts of steak sauce. Scientists with the British Antarctic Survey and the University of Reading would scoff at this trivial effort. They dug into the Antarctic permafrost and extracted frozen moss that they determined, using carbon dating, to have been frozen for over 1500 years.
The icy moss was placed in an incubator, given an ideal environment and, within a few weeks, was growing again.
Although bacteria has been frozen for long periods and revived and a giant 30,000-year-old frozen virus was thawed recently in Siberia, this is a first for a plant. Professor Peter Convey from the British Antarctic Survey explains what this means:
These mosses, a key part of the ecosystem, could survive century to millennial periods of ice advance, such as the Little Ice Age in Europe. If they can survive in this way, then recolonization following an ice age, once the ice retreats, would be a lot easier than migrating trans-oceanic distances from warmer regions.
Convey also tackled the question on everyone’s mind:
Although it would be a big jump from the current finding, this does raise the possibility of complex life forms surviving even longer periods once encased in permafrost or ice.
While it’s not the discovery cryogenicists have been waiting for, the news that a moss frozen 1500 years ago is growing again means we can project that 1500 years from now, we’ll still have Chia pets.