It’s not a great plot for a horror movie – they’re not eating brains (yet) – but it’s real. Plants that were once alive hundreds of years ago, then frozen during the Little Ice Age and buried under a hundred feet of ice the Canadian tundra, are being exposed to light once again due to (no surprise here) climate change and not just rising up as the ice melts again but growing and even thriving. If they need some help getting reestablished, some worms found in Siberia (where else?) that were frozen 40,000 years ago have warmed up and are alive again. Aspiring screenwriters want to know … has anyone offered them brains yet?
“You wouldn’t assume that anything buried for hundreds of years would be viable. The material had always been considered dead. But by seeing green tissue, “I thought, ‘Well, that’s pretty unusual.’ We were pretty blown away.”
The model for Indiana Jones in this movie might be evolutionary biologist Catherine La Farge (Indiannette Jones?), who recently went to the Trardrop Glacier on Canada’s Ellesmere Island intending to study what she expected to be decaying ancient plants being exposed by climate change. As reported in The National Post, when she scraped up the moss Aulacomnium turgidum, La Farge was shocked to see something green … shocked because this moss last saw light somewhere between 1550 and 1850 when The Little Ice Age hit North America, severely dropping temperatures for centuries and growing its glaciers in both area and depth. The moss La Farge found was indeed rising back to life on its own. She brought samples back to her lab in Edmonton and gave them a little help in the form of warmth and nutrients, and they not only arose but grew into seemingly normal (a Rip Van Winkle kind of normal) plants.
La Farge may have some competition in getting a Frozen Frankenstein Flora movie based on her discovery. There’s news from Antarctica of the discovery of moss frozen 1500 years ago that was also growing again. Peter Convey, an ecologist with the British Antarctic Survey, wasn’t quite as surprised because he believes ice protects plant cells from the stresses of surface life – freeze-thaw cycles and radiation are two big ones. As the ice permanently melts, the first plants exposed have the best chance to arise and take over before anything else thaws, which “really accelerates the recolonization process” and allows the ground frozen and buried for centuries to quickly become green once again.
If these ‘new’ ancient plants need help growing, they can open a can of worms from Siberia, where University of Tennessee microbiologist Tatiana Vishnivetskaya has been drilling deep into the Siberian permafrost and recently discovered frozen 40,000-year-old segmented worms (nematodes) that began wiggling once again when thawed.
“Of course we were surprised and very excited.”
That probably applies to the worms too, especially if they know they might be moving to slightly warmer dirt where they can eat, poop and fertilize centuries-old plants. It might also be good news for life on other planets, and even life forms on spaceships or asteroids traveling around the galaxy looking for a place to land/crash, thaw and live long and prosper.
Not a great movie plot but definitely a glimmer of hope of the continuation of life on Earth and possibility of life on other planets.