Tiny creature back to life 24,000 years in Siberian deep freeze

The story of the bdelloid rotifer, an ancient being that has come back to life, is a fiction writer’s dream, says scientist.

A bdelloid rotifer feeding on algae and other microorganisms, seen under a microscope [Getty Images]

A microscopic organism has wriggled back to life and reproduced asexually after lying frozen in the vast permafrost lands of northeastern Siberia for 24,000 years.

Russian scientists found the tiny ancient animal, called the bdelloid rotifer, in soil taken from the river Alazeya in Russia’s region of Yakutia in the far north.

The bdelloid rotifer, a multicellular organism found in freshwater habitats across the world, is known to be able to withstand extreme cold.

Previous research suggested it could survive for a decade when frozen at -20 degrees Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit).

This new case, which was detailed in a study in the journal Current Biology, is by far the creature’s longest recorded survival period in a frozen state.

“Our report is 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,” said Stas Malavin of the Soil Cryology Laboratory at Pushchino’s Institute of Physicochemical and Biological Problems in Soil Science.

The lab specialises in isolating microscopic organisms from the ancient permafrost in Siberia.

To collect samples, a drilling rig is used in the most remote Arctic locations.

The organism was recovered from samples taken 3.5 metres (11.5 feet) below ground. The material was dated from between 23,960 and 24,485 years ago, the study said.

Land encased in permafrost – where the ground is frozen all year round – has for years thrown up startling scientific discoveries.

Scientists earlier revived microscopic worms called nematodes from sediment in two places in northern Siberia that were dated more than 30,000 years old.

“The takeaway 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,” Malavin said.

“Of course, the more complex the organism, the trickier it is to preserve it alive frozen and, for mammals, it’s not currently possible. Yet, moving from a single-celled organism to an organism with a gut and brain, though microscopic, is a big step forward.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies