BY | May 29, 2013

This may look like incredible, but it is true. Centuries-old frozen plants have been revived in scientist’s lab

By Parwinder Sandhu

Science can do anything. And if there is something as bringing back dead to life, it just accomplished that too.  A group of researchers brought back to life the plants that were frozen to death for almost 400 years. Found to be samples of the bryophytes, the plant has been revived under the laboratory conditions.

The researchers claim that no special techniques were required for reviving the “bryophytes” and they might be the best candidates for colonizing in extreme, including the space.

The moss was first discovered at the Teardrop glacier, situated in the Canadian Arctic, where it is said that the light of daytime has not reached since Little Ice Age which took place from 1550 AD to 1850 AD.

Talking about the journey, that was part of an environmental project looking at the effects of pollution in the arctic, lead author of the study and a bryophyte botanist at the University of Alberta, Catherine La Farge said that she along with her colleagues had discovered the moss in 2007 during a trip to the Sverdrup Pass, a mountain pass in central Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, Canada, to study the diversity of bryophytes in the area.

“Being there we saw extensive populations of bryophytes and vascular plants coming out of the nearby receding Teardrop Glacier. During the Little Ice Age, which occurred between the 16th and 19th centuries, massive glaciers moved in and covered various regions in the Northern Hemisphere. These glaciers slowly retreated throughout the 20th century, and the rate of ice melt has sharply accelerated since 2004, thus revealing the beautifully preserved vegetative communities. It’s kind of like a blanket being pulled back, allowing you to see what the Little Ice Age was like,” she added.

Bryophytes are very different from land plants. These plants do not have any vascular tissue. This means that these plants can survive without drying up even in the long Arctic winters. Eventually, these plants grow in warmer times.

The Botanist further said: “We walked up to the glacier and looked at the populations of bryophytes. They looked blackened, but they were blackened with a green tint. The exhumed plants appeared to be re-growing, despite being for frozen for presumably hundreds of years, so we collected samples and took them back to their lab for further examination.”

Once in the laboratory, after having a look at the samples under microscopes, it was found that the plants were indeed experiencing new lateral branch development or stem regeneration. It was then decided to take fragments of the plants and test their capacity for regrowth. The team crushed the stem and leaf tissue, sowed it on potting soil and watered it frequently. Using this simple technique, they were able to grow 11 cultures from seven specimens, which represented four different species including Aulacomnium turgidum, Distichium capillaceum, Encalypta procera and Syntrichia rurali.

Radio carbon dating confirmed that the bryophytes were entombed in the glacier during the Little Ice Age some 400 years ago. La Farge said: “I think the whole biological system of bryophytes has not really been understood well. It appears that bryophytes are able to shut down during desiccation and revive when conditions improve. The plants regenerative powers are partly due to their cells’ ability to dedifferentiate (lose their specialized function) and return to a stem-cell-like state, allowing them to then become any type of plant cell.”

However these aren’t the oldest bryophytes discovered. Silene stenophylla is the oldest known bryophytes that are believed to be 32,000 years old. However, S. stenophylla’s re-growth was far more complicated, requiring scientists to extract placental tissue from seeds, carefully clone the tissue and then grow them on specialized, nutrient-rich media.

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