Jul 31, 2023
Imagine going down for a long nap in the ice age and waking up in the present.
That’s what happened to a half-dozen tiny roundworms that were 46,000 years old. They were revived by scientists after having survived dormant in Siberian permafrost. The peer-reviewed discovery was announced in the journal PLOS Genetics.
The worms had survived by being in a dormant state called cryptobiosis. In that state, they stopped eating. And their metabolism dropped to an undetectable level. The researchers used radiocarbon dating to learn the age of the worms. They figured out that the worms were frozen between 46,000 and 48,000 years ago.
The worms are called nematodes. They are one of Earth’s most common life forms. They're known for surviving long stretches locked in ice. This finding, though, destroyed the old record held by a nematode brought back from cryptobiosis. That one survived for a mere 25 years before being revived.
The Siberian worms are a new species. Scientists thawed them out in 2018. They named them Panagrolaimus kolymaensis. The worms died within days of their revival. But one of the female-only species began making offspring before she died. They reproduce asexually. Scientists want to determine how they can survive so long. They also hope to learn more about cryptobiosis.
One of the study's co-authors told The Wall Street Journal: “This paper could make people consider this third condition between life and death.”
Photo from Shatilovich et al, 2023, PLOS Genetics.
Reflect: If you had the ability to take an unbelievably long nap and wake up in the future, what are some exciting things you would hope to see or learn about in the world?
In this game, students learn what an invasive species is and how they impact the ecosystems they invade.
Endangered Species Critical Habitats
This interactive map shows 859 sites that contain at least 95% of an endangered species population and are identified as key biodiversity areas.
Endangered Species Act
This article details the history and impacts of the Endangered Species Act, which protects the habitat of species in the United States that are near extinction.