Scientists’ Believe Earth’s Ancient Life Forms Are Awakening After 40,000 Years In Permafrost
The climate is changing in ways we don’t even know. What’s going to happen to this world in the next 100 years? What about the next 50 years? What about the next 10? Are we, as humans, accidentally unleashing some ancient horror on the Earth? Is there something evil buried underneath the arctic ice that is melting? Will we accidentally bring back some Godzilla-like monster that terrorized the Earth thousands of years ago before it was buried underneath a sheet of ice, never to be seen again? People talk about how bad climate change is, but they don’t acknowledge that this could be a possibility. Because WE. DON’T. KNOW what is buried under all that ice. It could be anything. Anything.
The thought of a Godzilla-like monster coming back and terrorizing the Earth is enough to get us to start recycling our cans and bottles and stop using plastic bags and plastic straws.
Cold As Ice
Between the years 1550 and 1850, there was a cold period across the Earth that is known as the Little Ice Age.
During this time, glaciers in the Arctic grew in size, becoming much more massive.
One glacier in particular, the Teardrop Glacier off of Ellesmere Island in Canada, behaved in a very special way. A small piece of moss got frozen inside the glacier as it grew in size during the Little Ice Age. No, it wasn’t hungry.
The piece of moss lay frozen inside a 100-foot-thick piece of ice since the year 1850.
But now, things are changing. The ice is starting to melt, and the moss is starting to become free from it’s icy shell.
Evolutionary biologist Catherine La Farge found that the edge of the piece of moss is now exposed. The plant belongs to the species Aulacomnium turgidum. And not only is it visible, there might be life living on the moss.
The Circle Of Life
Because of climate change, 1 million of our planet’s plant and animal species might go extinct.
But climate change is starting to reveal that some life forms that went extinct might actually becoming back to life.
It turns out that life on this planet is a lot more resilient than we give it credit for. A plant or animal or bacteria that went away centuries ago can always come back thanks to the changes in our planet.
Life Finds A Way
It turns out that scientists are finding out that organisms that were frozen millennia ago can actually have a second life once their unfrozen.
Researchers thought that these organisms died out, but it’s actually not the case.
And it’s not just the bacteria that are coming back. Multi-celled animals can also come back to life when they get defrosted. It sounds pretty cool, but talk to us when they revive frozen dinosaurs. That’s something we wan to see.
What A Surprise
The fact that living organisms are getting a new shot at life is very surprising to researchers.
“You wouldn’t assume that anything buried for hundreds of years would be viable,” said La Farge. La Farge researches mosses at the University of Alberta.
They’re like the villains in a horror movie. Even if you think they’re dead, they’ll come back to life again and again and again. Hopefully none of these organisms are carrying a chainsaw and terrorizing teen.
Not What They Were Looking For
La Farge and her team found the moss in 2009. They were looking for blackened plant matter that the Teardrop glacier was spitting out.
Instead, they found a big surprise. “The material had always been considered dead. But by seeing green tissue, “I thought, ‘Well, that’s pretty unusual’,” La Farge said.
The moss that they found was faded, and parts of it were torn, but the bright color of the moss told them that it was alive.
La Farge took samples of the moss back to her lab so that they could study it further.
La Farge put it in nutrient rich soil. Eventually, the moss started growing new shoots and leaves. Just like Frankenstein’s monster, it was alive.
Further more, the ice didn’t really seem to see like it had been frozen for so long. “We were pretty blown away,” La Farge said. It’s almost as if the past 150 years didn’t happen.
The discovery is all the more impressive when you take into consideration how most plants die when they’re too cold.
Moss, especially, die in the cold because they try to avoid having ice form in their tissues.
If moss does get damaged from the colder temperatures, some of their cells “divide and differentiate into all the various tissue types that comprise a complete moss, similar to stem cells in human embryos.” They can’t just put on a jacket.
Back From The Dead
But La Farge and her team aren’t the only people bringing plants back to life after they’ve been frozen.
Peter Convey, an ecologist with the British Antarctic Survey, said that he revived a piece of moss that was 1,500-years-old.
The moss was found in the Arctic permafrost, and was buried more than three feet underneath the ground. “The permafrost environment is very stable,” said Convey. The ice actually can protect the moss from receiving too much stress.
One of the things that the discovery of the moss is telling scientists is that the glaciers and permafrost can actually help life get through an ice age.
Whatever makes it out of the ice alive as the glaciers in the Arctic and Antarctic melt is going to be the king of the jungle, so to speak.
Convey said, “when something can survive in situ, that really accelerates the recolonization process.” The moss can open the door for other plants to thrive.
More Than Moss
But it isn’t just moss that has survived being frozen in ice. There are more organisms that are awakening.
Tatiana Vishnivetskaya, a microbiologist at the University of Tennessee, drilled into the Siberian permafrost in the name of science.
She wanted to see what single-celled organisms were in existence before the Ice Age. There are many life forms that got stuck inside the ice. Vishnivetskaya was now letting them out. And she discovered something very interesting about them.
Vishnivetskaya was able to revive million-year-old bacteria in her lab. You’d think that a million years would be enough to kill them, but it’s not.
Not only that, the bacteria were “very similar to bacteria you can find in cold environments [today],” said Vishnivetskaya.
Last year, Vishnivetskaya and her team also found one with a brain and a nervous system, which made scientists have to rethink what they know about extreme endurance. Those bacterias were resilient AF.
Life After Death
Vishnivetskay and her team found long, segmented worms called nematodes. They even had a head and everything.
The scientists were able to bring the nematodes back to life. “Of course we were surprised and very excited,” Vishnivetskaya said.
The nematodes are believed to be 41,000 years old, which makes them the oldest living animal ever discovered. We don’t know how they’ll adapt to modern living, but we’re pretty sure they won’t know how to work a cell phone.
Survival Of The Fittest
Scientists are baffled, but at the same time, it’s not surprising that these nematodes were able to be revived.
“These buggers survive just about everything,” said Gaetan Borgonie, a nematode researcher at Extreme Life Isyensya in Gentbrugge, Belgium.
Vishnivetskaya thinks that these creatures could survive forever if the environment that they’re frozen in is stable enough. “They may last any number of years if their cells stay intact,” she said. At the end of the world, it’ll just be nematodes.
Back To Basics
It’s remarkable to think that some animals are on the verge of going extinct, yet other animals are on the verge of coming back.
Climate change is truly changing the planet, for better or for worse.
It’ll be interesting to see if scientists are able to find other, and larger, species that were frozen in ice. We really want them to revive a wooly mammoth. We’re crossing our fingers that that animal comes back to life soon.