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Antarctic moss comes back to life after 1,500 years

Peter Convey of the British Antarctic Survey and colleagues from the University of Reading reported the growth of Antarctic moss that had been frozen for 1,500 years in the March, 17, 2014, issue of the journal Current Biology.

This image shows the moss banks of Signy during the coring project in which the paper's core was obtained.
This image shows the moss banks of Signy during the coring project in which the paper's core was obtained.
Credit: P. Boelen Usage Restrictions: Credit Required Related news release: Antarctic moss lives after 1,500+ years under ice

This discovery is the oldest known natural revitalization of any plant. The researchers only brought the moss to the surface of the Earth and exposed the moss to light and air. Revitalization of plants has been seen in plants that were frozen for 20 years but no plant of this age has ever been known to begin to grow before now.

The moss was extracted from core samples taken from Signy Island in the South Orkney Islands of Antarctica. The moss banks of Signy Island are over 6,000 years old.

The discovery indicates that moss survived the multiple freezing and thawing events of the last 6,000 years and probably for thousands of years before.

The regeneration of moss that had been frozen for 1,500 years provides hope that the receding ice in the Antarctic and Arctic regions of the Earth may produce a new plant source that could mitigate some of the carbon dioxide produced by man. Mosses store and fix carbon and may act as a carbon sink in the future.