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Re-Awakened Plants

June 11, 2013

Plants that were frozen in glaciers 400 years ago are growing again as those glaciers melt away.



Plants wake up from a deep freeze.  I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

On Ellesmere Island, in the Arctic Circle, mossy plants have been frozen in glaciers for centuries.  Now, the glaciers are retreating, and some of those thawed-out plants are actually growing again.  University of Alberta biologist Catherine La Farge and her colleagues recently confirmed this.  She says it was already known that viruses, bacteria, and fungi could survive and even grow in glaciers.

CATHERINE LA FARGE (University of Alberta, Canada):

But we never would have thought that you could have land plants, actually being able to be regenerated.

In the field, La Farge’s team saw signs of growth in the exposed mosses.  Using radiocarbon dating, they confirmed that the plants were 400 to 600 years old.  And several samples were able to grow in the lab.  La Farge notes that these re-emerging plants could affect the entire ecosystem, by re-introducing genes that have long since disappeared.  I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.

Revived bryophytes from the Arctic Circle. (Catherine LaFarge/University of Alberta)