Canadian scientists revive ‘Little Ice Age’ plant frozen 400 years under glacier ice
Scientists in Alberta said this week they’ve revived a plant that was trapped under glacier ice for some 400 years or more, discovered during an exploration of Canada’s Teardrop Glacier in 2007.
The organism is an ancient moss in the category of bryophytes, non-vascular plants that grow on land and typically converge on rocks, soil or tree trunks. They noticed the plant sticking up from some melting ice and took a sample, thinking they’d just discovered something that has not lived on the planet in hundreds of years.
Sure enough, they were right: the moss was frozen solid during the “Little Ice Age,” a period of tremendous upheaval in Europe between the 14th and 19th centuries. Back in the lab at the University of Alberta, biologist Catherine La Farge re-planted some of the moss and, to her surprise, watched as it grew.
She spoke to NPR after producing 11 samples of the ancient plant, clearly excited about the previously unknown biological diversity emerging from under the glacier as climate change speeds up.
“The material actually looked quite green when we examined it underneath the microscope,” she said. “And in examining it in more detail, there was actually growth coming from the material.”
Writing in the scientific journal PNAS, La Farge added that her research reveals “the unrecognized resilience of bryophytes, which are commonly overlooked” by scientists.
In other words, expect to hear a lot more about ancient organisms like bryophytes and, really, who knows what else, as Earth’s ice continues to dissolve.
[“Stock Photo: Moss As A Fern” on Shutterstock.]