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A microscopic animal known as a bdelloid rotifer has been revived after being frozen for 24,000 years in Siberian permafrost.
Russian scientists found the multi-celled organism in a core of frozen soil extracted with a drilling rig from the Alayeza River in the Russian Arctic, after which they allowed it to thaw.
The research, published this week in the journal Current Biology, revealed that after spending thousands of years in a state of frozen animation known as crytobiosis, the animal was able to reproduce asexually.
Bdelloid rotifers, which typically live in watery environments, are known to have an incredible ability to survive, with earlier research showing they could survive up to 10 years when frozen.
Following the new study, researcher Stas Malavin said the report offers ‘the hardest proof as of today that multicellular animals could withstand tens of thousands of years in cryptobiosis, the state of almost completely arrested metabolism,’ CNN reports.
By using radiocarbon dating, the researchers were able to determine that the animals recovered from the permafrost were between 23,960 and 24,485 years old. Permafrost is when the ground remains frozen year-round, aside from a thin layer near the surface.
Malavin, who works at the Soil Cryology Laboratory at the Pushchino Scientific Center for Biological Research in Russia, explained the takeaway of the research is that ‘a multicellular organism can be frozen and stored as such for thousands of years and then return back to life – a dream of many fiction writers.’
In spite of this, however, the researcher noted it is highly unlikely bigger life forms could survive being frozen in the same way, explaining that it becomes trickier to preserve organisms by freezing them while alive the more complex the organism is.
He said it’s ‘not currently possible’ for mammals, but added: ‘Yet, moving from a single-celled organism to an organism with a gut and brain, though microscopic, is a big step forward.’
In an effort to learn how the bdelloid rotifer survived being frozen in suspended animation, the researchers conducted similar experiments on modern-day rotifers living in permafrost regions.
After freezing and thawing the animals, the scientists found they could withstand the formation of ice crystals while they were slowly frozen. Not all of the organisms survived the freezing process, but the results of the study indicated they have a mechanism that allowed them to shield their cells and organs from harm at very low temperatures.
Featured Image Credit: Michael Plewka/PA Images
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