Context: Scientists made a fascinating discovery in Siberia five years ago when they found and reanimated two kinds of frozen microscopic nematodes, or roundworms.
- A recent study reveals that these worms are 46,000 years old, frozen since the late Pleistocene era. Furthermore, one of them belongs to an entirely new species called Panagrolaimus kolymaensis.
- Animals like nematodes and tardigrades can survive extreme conditions through a dormant state known as “cryptobiosis.” The researchers tested the hardiness of the ancient worms and found that they can survive the absence of water and oxygen, extreme temperatures, and even drying.
What is cryptobiosis?
Cryptobiosis is a state in which an organism exhibits no visible signs of life and its metabolic activity becomes nearly undetectable or temporarily stops. During this state, organisms can survive without water, oxygen, or under extreme conditions. As metabolism is a key feature of life, cryptobiosis can be seen as a temporary “death” of the organism.
- This discovery increases the longest documented cryptobiosis period in nematodes by tens of thousands of years.
- Understanding how these worms adapted to extreme conditions can provide insights into habitat change caused by climate change and how species can survive despite changing weather patterns.
- Additionally, the study raises questions about evolution and the notion of extinction, as these worms have stretched their lifespan by thousands of years.
- The research could have practical implications in helping species alive today and humans adapt to extreme conditions.