A team of researchers from the British Antarctic Survey and the University of Reading recently managed to revive an ancient patch of moss that was covered by Antarctic ice for 1,500 years! Working on the island of Signy, just a few hundred miles northeast the Antarctic Peninsula, the British researchers noticed that layers of moss under the permafrost looked unusually fresh, prompting further research. After extracting a core segment of the moss and exposing it to its natural environment, the researchers were amazed to see the sample spring forth with green fuzz.
The research team began by extracting a 4.5 foot core from a frozen moss bank. Once the moss was in the lab, scientists sliced the moss into 8-inch pieces and placed them in sealed containers. Throughout the research period, the moss was exposed to light and temperature levels that mimic the natural environment of living moss. In less than three weeks, scientists confirmed newly sprouted green fuzz at various depths in the containers. Taking samples of the black stems, the scientists were able to carbon-date the different layers of moss. Amazingly, tests show that the regenerating moss taken from the core’s bottom layer dates back to approximately 300-450 A.D.
Although there have been various studies of plant regeneration in the past, this is the first time a plant has been restored back to its living state after being encased in solid ice for such a long time. Study co-author Peter Convey, an ecologist with the British Antarctic Survey explains: “This is the very first instance we have of any plant or animal surviving [being frozen] for more than a couple of decades.”