Snow White’s Worms
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Scientists recently revived an unknown species of roundworm that had been frozen in the Siberian permafrost for tens of thousands of years, CNN reported.
Researchers initially found the ancient worm five years ago, buried more than 130 feet below the permafrost. The minuscule invertebrates came to life again when the researchers simply put them in some water.
In their paper, they wrote that the nematodes belonged to a whole new species, which they named Panagrolaimus kolymaenis. A radiocarbon analysis also showed that the worms had remained in a state “between death and life” for around 46,000 years.
The team explained that the creature survived because it remained in a dormant state known as cryptobiosis. Organisms that can pull such a feat are able to survive without water and oxygen, as well as endure extreme temperatures and salty conditions.
However, other cryptobiotic creatures that have been revived have only survived decades, not millennia.
The authors believe that the survivability of P. kolymaenis could be connected to its unique genes: A genetic study found that it shared with Caenorhabditis elegans – another roundworm often used in scientific studies – “a molecular toolkit” that could allow it to survive cryptobiosis.
Specifically, both worm species produced a sugar called trehalose that could allow them to withstand freezing and lack of water.
Co-author Philipp Schiffer noted that studying these new organisms could provide some new insights into conservation efforts.
“By looking at and analyzing these animals, we can maybe inform conservation biology, or maybe even develop efforts to protect other species, or at least learn what to do to protect them in these extreme conditions that we have now,” he said.