Moss still grows after 1,500-year deep freeze

Frozen moss taken from permafrost beneath the banks of Signy Island (shown) near Antarctica regrew naturally after being warmed in an incubator.

P. Boelen

Slices of moss frozen for nearly 1,500 years have begun to grow again after a bit of time in an incubator.

Researchers have seen microbes survive extremely cold conditions for tens of thousands of years. But the Chorisodontium aciphyllum moss, taken from a core sample of Antarctic permafrost, is the first plant or multicellular organism to show signs of natural regrowth after such a long deep freeze. The moss slices were taken from depths of 30, 110 and 121 to 138 centimeters.

The moss may be able to endure tens of thousands of years under ice if it is preserved in permafrost and then overrun by a glacier, the researchers suggest March 17 in Current Biology

Ashley Yeager is the associate news editor at Science News. She has worked at The Scientist, the Simons Foundation, Duke University and the W.M. Keck Observatory, and was the web producer for Science News from 2013 to 2015. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.

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