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Animals revived after being frozen for 24,000 years in Siberian permafrost

This rotifer, a microscopic animal, is also known as a “wheel animalcule.”

Michael Plewka

If I get eight hours of sleep, I’m fine. Meanwhile, a microscopic Arctic animal got 24,000 years of sleep and came out fine on the other side. A new study describes the remarkable journey of a bdelloid rotifer, a small freshwater crib that survived for millennia in the permafrost of Siberia.

“Our report is the hardest evidence today that multicellular animals could withstand tens of thousands of years in cryptobiosis, the state of almost completely arrested metabolism,”

; said Stas Malavin of Russia’s Institute of Physico-Chemical and Biological Problems in Earth Sciences. in cell. Press release.

Malavin is the co-author of a paper describing the incredible survival performance of rotifers, published in the journal Current Biology on Monday.

Rotifers are also known as “wheel animalcules” thanks to the Latin root of their name, which relates to a rotating “wheel” of small hairs at one end of their body. The “Animalcule” section refers to the fact that they are microscopic animals.

Malavin’s team specializes in pulling up permafrost samples at remote locations using drilling techniques. The rotifier came from a depth of approx. 3.5 meters. The researchers used radiocarbon dating – a way to determine the age of organic materials – to date the animal. Once thawed, it was able to reproduce by essentially cloning itself.

Permafrost is the gift that keeps on giving. The Siberian rotifer is in good company with old viruses, a preserved Paleolithic baby horse and one intact woolly rhinos. The mammals could not be revived.

Science has witnessed the impressive resilience of small life forms. Tardigrades – affectionately known as water bears – are microscopic animals that can survive freezing, radiation and even being fired by a gun (up to a point). Researchers have also discovered small animals crazy deep under the Antarctic ice shelf.

The researchers froze and thawed rotors in laboratory experiments. The results suggest that the wheelbarrows have an as yet unknown mechanism for surviving a slow freezing process. The team intends to continue looking for more animals that may be able to survive under similar circumstances. If scientists can understand how animals protect and preserve themselves, they may be able to improve cryonics for more complex animals, such as humans.

“Takeaway is that a multicellular organism can be frozen and stored as such for thousands of years and then return to life – a dream for many fiction writers,” Malavin said.

“Of course, the more complex the organism is, the more difficult it is to preserve it,” he notes with a great warning for any future human hibernation: “For mammals, this is not possible at the moment.”

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