Imagine being brought back to life after being frozen for many centuries or waking up from sleep after decades. In a similar attempt, prehistoric Russian worms came back to life after 42,000 years by being thawed by researchers in a lab.
Some animals hibernate during the winters, while some majestic beings like Wood Frog, Iguanas, etc, freeze themselves completely during the harsh winter seasons and come back to life as if nothing happened. But Tardigrades, also known as ‘water bears,’ are the only ones besides Russian worms to survive the longest after being successfully revived and reproduced after being frozen for over 30 years.
Nematodes are usually free-living and they live in soil, freshwater, and sea. They feed on fungi, bacteria, and other nematodes. They play a vital role in nutrient cycling and in releasing nutrients for the growth of plants. They are very small in size, measuring around 1 mm and they are known to possess spectacular abilities. Some of them can be found living 1.3 kilometers below the surface of Earth, which is deeper than any other multicellular animal’s habitat. Some of the worms can even develop up to five different mouths depending on the type of food available to them.
The Revival of Worms
Investigators from Moscow State University, Russia, and Princeton University, US, examined around 300 samples of Arctic permafrost deposits and found that the deposits held several well-preserved worms called nematodes. Despite being frozen for so many centuries, these worms were successfully revived by the researchers. One of the two samples was collected in 2002, from a 3.5-meter deep deposit near the Kolyma River in Northeastern Siberia, which was around 42,000 years old. And the other sample was collected in 2015, from a 30-meter deep glacial core, near the Alazeya River in the northeastern part of Yakutia, Russia, which was 32,000 years old as reported by the researchers.
After being removed from the permafrost, the researchers separated all the females. There were two species of nematodes namely, Plectus Parvus and Panagrolaimus Detritophagu. The samples were then defrosted in the petri-dishes inside the lab, while the temperature was kept at 20°C. After a few weeks, these worms came back to life and started eating and moving, making it the first evidence of “natural cryopreservation” of multicellular animals.
“Our data demonstrate the ability of multicellular organisms to survive long-term (tens of thousands of years) Cryobiosis under the conditions of natural Cryoconservation,” stated a report made available to Fox news. “It is obvious that this ability suggests that the Pleistocene nematodes have some adaptive mechanisms that may be of scientific and practical importance for the related fields of science, such as Cryo-medicine, Cryobiology, and Astrobiology”.
Other Similar Findings
Originally, it was believed that both the worms were female, but later, one out of them turned out to be a triploid. Triploids reproduce by monosexual reproduction(parthenogenesis) and they have three sets of chromosomes. Currently, out of all the known findings, these two worms are the oldest living animals in the world. However, these are not the only animals held by the permafrosts. In 2015, researchers discovered a reserved pair of cave lion cubs. Scientists believe that these animals might have died about 55,000 years ago.
Previously another group of researchers identified a giant virus from Siberian Permafrost, which was resuscitated after being frozen for 30,000 years. Recently, by the end of 2020, researchers discovered a well-preserved Wooly Rhino from Yakutia’s melting permafrost. On studying the Rhino, scientists discovered that much of its soft tissues, including a part of the intestine was still intact. The rhino was likely to be three to four years old when it died, most probably due to drowning. It was one of the best specimens of Ice-age found by the researchers. According to the researchers, the carcass dated around 30-000-50,000 years old.
Even though global warming is responsible for melting the permafrost and revealing these centuries-old creatures to us, they might help us combat the temperature and climate changes into the future. Apart from this, these impressive discoveries could help us understand the evolution of species and cryo-conservation. If by any chance, Wooly Mammoth or some similar animals from the ice age could be revived back to life and sent to the Tundra, it can help the Tundra permafrost from melting which will automatically prevent the release of more greenhouse gases, having a direct impact in curbing Global warning.
Of course, this thought might look like it’s years away from becoming a reality, but we never know what we might discover next, from the deep and icy past of our planet