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July 7, 2021

Millennial Life!

NSF-funded researchers from The University of Tennessee, Knoxville were astonished to find life-frozen in suspended animation-for some 24,000 years.

Credit: National Science Foundation

Millennial Life!

I'm Mo Barrow with The Discovery Files, from NSF -- the U.S. National Science Foundation.

What wonders do you think can be found by drilling in the Siberian permafrost? The frozen subterranean territory of Russia.

NSF-funded researchers from The University of Tennessee, Knoxville were astonished to find life -- frozen in suspended animation, for some 24,000 years.

They discovered that bdelloid rotifers – microscopic multi-cellular animals, known for their extraordinary resilience, surviving extremes of drying, freezing, starvation and low oxygen for 10 years, had survived for a stunning 24 millennia.

The researchers used radiocarbon-dating to determine that the rotifers were indeed that old. They were amazed to see that, once thawed, the super-tiny organisms reproduced in a process known as parthenogenesis, much like cloning.

To mimic the process of freezing and recovery, the researchers froze and then thawed dozens of the ancient rotifers in their lab. The studies suggest the tiny animals have some mechanism that enables them to shield their cells and organs from harm at exceedingly low temperatures.

They hope their research will offer clues as how to better cryo-preserve the cells, tissues, and organs of other animals, including humans.

If microscopic animals can survive frozen for 24,000 years, what other wonders does the artic hold?

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