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New Growth Induced in Moss Frozen Since Roman Empire

Anybody who’s seen John Carpenter’s The Thing gets nervous at the idea of Antarctic life forms getting thawed out and brought back to life. But worry not, the organism in question here is moss, a beast too tame to warrant a swift death by flamethrower. Scientists on Signy Island off Antarctica took core samples of deep moss that was presumed to have succumbed to death by freezing. However, when these samples from the permafrost were exposed to light for a few weeks, they sprouted fuzzy green growth all over themselves. Let there be life!

But how long had it been since these mosses had last grown? To figure that out, researchers turned to carbon dating – and what they found was amazing. It turns out that these samples had last grown between 350-400 AD, right about the time that the Theodosian Dynasty of the Roman Empire was getting into full swing.

Signy Islands IPSigny Island is off the Antarctic coast in the South Orkney Islands. (Wikimedia Commons)

“It’s basically the first record of anything regenerating of that sort of age,” said Peter Convey, who is co-author of the report in Current Biology. “There are records of microbes being pulled out of ice cores and permafrost, but nothing that’s multicellular has ever been recorded to do it.”

Are there any other multicellular life forms you suspect could be revived from centuries in the ice? Could global warming mean some of these organisms will soon wake up on their own? And what if one such life form was a caveman who got thawed out, went to law school and became a real life Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer!? Speculate below.

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