1,500-Year-Old Moss Revived

Resurrection ecology in the Arctic

Mar 18, 2014
Outside Magazine
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Scientists found moss shoots in a layer of permafrost from 1,500 years ago    Jacynthroode/Thinkstock

Moss dating back 1,500 years, found in a layer of permafrost on Signy Island in Antarctica, has been revived. In a major feat of resurrection ecology, scientists brought the moss back to life using a lamp and an occasional misting.

"Jurassic Park was one thing, but we're talking about real animals, real plants, real organisms that have been suspended for very long lengths of time," said Lawrence J. Weider, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Oklahoma, in a New York Times report. 

Resurrection ecology isn’t new to science, but the past 10 years have seen some major accomplishments. In 2012, Russian researchers found a 32,000-year-old seed in the permafrost and ultimately grew it into a flower. In January, 700-year-old flea eggs were revived, hatched, and eventually raised to adulthood. In 2007, a Rutgers University study revived 8 million-year-old bacteria that was trapped in Antarctic ice.  

With the resurrection of ancient organisms as a proven practice, a new chapter of science awaits. Reviving old organisms provides a better understanding of past ecosystems, and a present-day application could be used to reinforce endangered species.

In a 2001 Outside feature, Adam Goodheart went looking for cloneable Ice Age mammoth DNA in Siberia.

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