Almost everyone is probably familiar with at least one tale of some living organism coming back to life after being frozen. Maybe they heard it as a ghost story around a campfire, or watched it happen during a movie or TV show, or made up their own version for a creative writing assignment. Well, today we will discuss a worm-related discovery that could easily pass as science fiction!
The news was just released to the public this summer, but last fall Russian scientists were doing work in Pleistocene Park (a nature reserve on the Kolyma River in the Sakha Republic, Russia) when they made an amazing discovery. While analyzing samples of Arctic permafrost, they found two nematodes (a.k.a. roundworms) that came back to life after being defrosted in Petri dishes. According to Life Science, the younger nematode, which was found in a fossil squirrel burrow, was determined to be from about 32,ooo years ago. The older worm was found in a sample from the Kolyma river and was estimated to be roughly 42,000 years old making it the oldest living organism! Both nematodes are female and are believed to represent two species: Panagrolaimus detritophagus and Plectus parvus.
According to Smithsonian Magazine, there is a small chance that these samples were contaminated by contemporary organisms, but because of the rigid protocols in place to ensure sterility, they don’t think it’s very likely. Also in their favor is the fact that the permafrost samples in which the organisms were found came from 100 feet and 15 feet below the surface. Nematodes don’t typically burrow very deep into permafrost, and the seasonal thaw only extends about 3 feet underground. Therefore, scientists are confident that modern organisms couldn’t be tied to this discovery. If contamination is ruled out, then the older nematode will have set a new record for how long an organism can live after cryogenic preservation. In addition, the discovery of these two nematodes that have been alive for tens of thousands of years will likely open new doors and possibilities in the field of cryopreservation.
So, the next time you wake up from a nap feeling groggy and disoriented, just think how you might feel if you had slept for 40,000 years!