(Photo : Dr. Catherine La Farge)
Centuries-old plant life has been revived after being frozen and buried under glaciers for 400 years. The mosses were revealed by the melting Canadian glaciers, and the tough little plants were actually regenerated by scientists without using any outlandishly novel techniques.
Dr. Catherine La Farge and her colleagues at the University of Alberta discovered and collected the mosses and liverworts, called "bryophytes," which were uncovered by the swift thawing of the Teardrop Glacier on Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, according to Dr. La Farge's study, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
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The little plants have been entombed in the mass of ice since the Little Ice Age, a geologically brief period of cooling that lasted from about 1550 AD to 1850 AD. The Canadian glaciers formed on that island have been receding throughout the 20th century, but have more recently sped up to a pace of three to four meters every year due to global warming, according to ABC Science.
According to Dr. La Farge's study, the plants' structure was still frozen intact, and some of the plants appeared to be exhibiting regrowth and regeneration, showing some hints of green amongst other parts that were blackened from being frozen. The scientists ran radio carbon dating tests on the plants and confirmed that they were about 400 years old. After that, and after seeing signs of regeneration, the team ground up some of the plants' stems and leaf tissues, and disseminated it in potting soil, according to io9.
With that technique, and plenty of water, the team ended up growing 11 cultures from seven hardy specimens. Bryophytes are non-vascular plants, like mosses and liverwort, which reproduce asexually and have the ability for any part of the plant to revert back to their initial germination state, meaning any cell can regenerate an entire plant. "Bryophytes are built for survival in extreme environments in ways that vascular plants are not," says Dr. La Farge. This discovery is important for understanding the way polar ecosystems work, not to mention how particular species of vegetation can come back from cryopreservation.