Bryophytes Frozen in Time over 400 Years Ago come Back to Live

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Scientists have been able to bring back to life several 400-year-old plants, observing them grow and reproduce after spending several centuries frozen inside the Canadian Arctic on Ellesmere Island.

Frozen in time inside the Teardrop Glacier during the "Little Ice Age", a group of plants have regrown, say scientists.  This smaller-scale cool period occurred from approximately 1550-1850, according to Science Daily.

A study on this remarkable find was conducted by researchers from the University of Alberta, located in Edmonton, Canada. Scientists had first discovered the plants in 2007, according to the Anchorage Daily News.

The team of scientists were able to access the frozen plants because Teardrop Glacier is melting at a more rapid pace, reported Los Angeles Times. This melt is exposing plants that were thought to have died off long ago.

"It's kind of like a blanket being pulled back, allowing you to see what the Little Ice Age was like," said Catherine La Farge, a bryophyte botanist at the University of Alberta.

Researchers collected some of the plant remnants, called bryophytes, for observation.

"We walked up to the glacier and looked at the populations of bryophytes," La Farge told io9. "They looked blackened, but they were blackened with a green tint."

Scientists had radiocarbon dated the plants to be approximately 400 to 600 years old.

"To test their biological viability, Little Ice Age populations emerging from the ice margin were collected for in vitro growth experiments. Our results include a unique successful regeneration of subglacial bryophytes following 400 y of ice entombment," the study's authors wrote.

During their study, the team noted the plant remains they nurtured gave way to new growth, including greenery and buds. The group was able to grow seven out of 11 samples, which included plants of four species.

This type of plant does not reproduce through seeds or flowers, but through spores. Many plants, such as moss, in the modern day are similar, reported Ars Technica (via The Conversation).

This study is unique because it shows that some plants are able to sustain, even under the harshest of conditions. And no special techniques were needed to stimulate the growth that was observed.

io9 also noted this means that bryophytes might possibly be able to be a candidate for colonizing in other harsh and non-native environmental conditions, perhaps even outer space.

The findings of this plant study were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

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