Global warming is waking up life forms thousands of years old

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While poll-obsessed politicians recklessly waste time debating the existence of climate change (or more accurately, global warming), the facts are not only undeniable but also startling. Doomsday scenarios aside, one of the more surprising and fascinating consequences of global warming is the thawing of life forms that have been cryogenically frozen for thousands of years.

Specifically, scientists have been focusing their attention on Siberia’s melting permafrost and Greenland’s shrinking glaciers where ancient bacteria, viruses, plants, and even animals are rearing their flesh eating teeth in anticipation of devouring us hapless humans. Okay, perhaps I went too far on the fleshing eating part. In truth, and although these previously frozen and once extinct life forms are being reanimated, they appear to pose little to no risk to humans.

They are, however, offering scientists new insights into the organisms and life forms that once populated and dominated Earth. Below are four examples of how global warming is allowing and inspiring scientists to peer deeper into nature’s evolutionary past.

32,000 year-old arctic plant revived

campion global warmingA few years ago, Russian scientists grew a living plant “from the fruit of a little arctic flower, the narrow-leafed campion, that died 32,000 years ago.” The fruit was discovered frozen deep inside an arctic ground squirrel’s burrow located within the tundra of northeastern Siberia. The fact these scientists were able to grow the plant from ancient tissue marks a stunning breakthrough given this achievement has never been accomplished with plant tissue older than 2,000 years.

This is an amazing breakthrough. I have no doubt in my mind that this is a legitimate claim.Dr. Zazula, Yukon Paleontology Program

Russian scientists allegedly accomplished this feat by taking cells from the fruit’s placenta, which they then thawed and grew in cultured dishes.

700 year-old egg hatched

Image credit: Dagmar Frisch

Image credit: Dagmar Frisch

In 2014, researchers took a 700 year-old egg from the bottom of a lake in Minnesota and successfully hatched several water fleas. According to a study published in Ecology Letters, these tiny hatchlings, called Daphina, are the oldest critters ever to be brought to life.

The purpose of this experiment was to discover to what extent these types of life forms have adapted to changing environments.

The chemistry of those lakes has been carefully documented for decades, making it possible to see how changes in pollution levels affected the water fleas.Carl Zimmer of the New York Times

The Daphina hatchlings represent a time capsule that allows scientists to measure the impact of human agricultural practices on the evolution of certain organisms. In this case, human activity has resulted in a sudden increase in the levels of phosphorus in the waters of this particular Minnesota lake.

According to Zimmer, “That environmental shift coincided with a drastic change in the genes of the water fleas. As phosphorus flooded the lake, a previously rare strain emerged and took over,” which has allowed these aquatic animals to better regulate phosphorus intake. Read witnessing evolution in action.

Moss from the time of King Arthur resurrected

Just 375 miles off Antarctica, and thanks to retreating glaciers, British scientists on Signy Island were able to access and drill through permafrost encapsulating moss 1,500 years-old. After digging and reaching the gravel bed, these scientists were surprised to discover moss shoots in the cores they drew up.

The scientists put a core of Signy permafrost under a lamp in a lab in Britain and misted it from time to time with water. After a few weeks, the moss was sending up new green growth.

Image credit: Credit P. Boelen

Image credit: Credit P. Boelen

With the growing number of “resurrection ecology” successes, scientists are wondering if these revived samples can be collected as a repository for biodiversity.

You could use whatever is stored in ice or sediment as a sort of backup for biodiversity. [Of course], one has to be really, really careful introducing something from the past.Luisa Orsini, University of Birmingham in England

Reviving 8 million year-old bacteria

One of the most eerie scientific accomplishments is the revival of bacteria nearly 8 million years old. Extracting DNA and bacteria from one of the oldest known ice on Earth located “between 3 and 5 meters beneath the surface of a glacier in the Beacon and Mullins valleys of Antarctica,” scientists from Rutgers University claim to have resuscitated these bacteria in the lab.

Paul Falkowski of Rutgers University, who led the study, describes the ancient bacteria as small round cells that had been in a “suspended state of animation for 8 million years”. He says the increasingly rapid flow of glaciers into the ocean as a result of global warming could release new organisms into the sea but he does not believe this is cause for concern because marine bacteria and viruses are typically far less harmful to human health than, for instance, those found on land.

Thanks, global warming?

Reviving ancient life forms is a relatively recent practice pursued by scientists, and is done so to study the composition and make-up of these organisms for the sake of acquiring a valuable snapshot into the evolutionary nature of our past. These results are then compared to the present, shedding new light on how human activity and global warming have influenced life on Earth, for better or worse.

About Author

Kristian strives to enlighten and entertain readers. In addition to his teaching and editorial responsibilities, he is working on a science-fiction novel that promises not to include exoskeleton suits and anemic aliens floating in mysterious vats of green-tinted goop.

5 Comments

  1. alextsummers@gmail.com'

    Fascinating! What an excellent article! I’m waiting for them to revive dinosaurs. I know that probably only could happen in movies, but I would love to see a living breathing dinosaur.

  2. rh62woodman@wowway.com'
    Robert H. Woodman on

    Thanks for sharing this. This is an aspect of climate change of which I was unaware. It’s interesting, though troubling, information.

    It has potential as a great Sci-Fi Horror story also. :-)

  3. vallagon_89@hotmail.com'
    Jesus Valladares on

    Pretty cool. A little scary but interesting. I might use put some of this data forward in global warming discussions for reference. In fact this data immediately putts an end to this arguments.

    Thanks.

    • Kristian Markus on

      Did you actually read the article? If you did, then you’d realize everything stated was cited and explained. At one point, we even make fun of the tendency to exaggerate when it comes to such issues.