Worms frozen for 42,000 years come back to life in science lab

July 31, 2018

(Source: Siberian Times)

A pair of roundworms (nematodes) have been brought back to life after they were frozen in Siberian permafrost for nearly 42,000 years.

The Siberian Times  reported that scientists at the Institute of Physico-Chemical and Biological Problems of Soil Science in Moscow were able to resuscitate the two prehistoric worms. They are moving and eating after they came back to life in the lab.

The findings, published in the Russian science journal Doklady Biological Sciences , represent the first evidence of multicellular organisms returning to life after spending a long period in Arctic permafrost.

Nematodes are tiny worms that measure from 0.1mm to 2.5mm in length and some may have what could be considered ‘supernatural powers’. For example, nematodes have been found living 1.3km below the Earth’s surface, deeper than any other multicellular animal. In 2016, German scientists found a new species, Pristionchus borbonicus , on the Indian Ocean island of Reunion. It can develop any of five different types of mouths depending on its food source.

Researchers from Moscow State University and Princeton University analysed 300 samples of Arctic permafrost deposits and found two that held several well-preserved nematodes.

One sample was collected from a fossil squirrel burrow near the Alazeya River in the northeastern part of Yakutia in Russia, from deposits estimated to be about 32,000 years old, according to Live Science .

The other permafrost sample came from the Kolyma River in northeastern Siberia, and the age of nearby deposits was around 42,000 years old, scientists said.

The worms represented two known species: Panagrolaimus detritophagus  and Plectus parvus .

After defrosting the worms, researchers saw them moving and eating, making this the first evidence of ‘natural cryopreservation’ of multicellular animals.

However, this is not the first organism to awaken after being in icy cold suspended animation for millenia. Earlier in 2014, scientists discovered a 30,000 year old giant amoeba infecting virus - Pithovirus sibericum  - and managed to revive it, causing an infection in an amoeba.

Its discoverers had warned at the time that the pathogen’s ability to become infectious again after so many millenniums is a warning in the age of global warming that new threats to human or animal life could emerge if permafrost melted.

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