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The nematode survived 46,000 years in the permafrost of Siberia. Scientists brought him to life

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A nematode that has been stuck in frozen soil for thousands of years has been brought back to life by scientists. A species unknown to science may have been in a hidden state of life even since the last glacial period. As the scientists explain, the mechanism that enabled it to survive is also present in its modern cousins.

Cryptobiosis, also known as the state of hidden life, is a specialized mechanism that allows living organisms to survive adverse conditions. Some activities are then interrupted, and the metabolism slows down to an almost undetectable level. As the study, the results of which were published in the journal “PLOS Genetics”, shows that some species can slow down their life processes for a really long time.

From the Ice Age

Researchers from the Russian Academy of Sciences first traced the ancient organisms back in 2018, when they studied a soil sample from the Siberian permafrost deep below the Earth’s surface. Radiocarbon dating showed that the area had not thawed since the last ice age, about 45,000 to 47,000 years ago. In addition to plant matter and soil, the sample contained miniature nematodes in a state of cryptobiosis. Scientists have managed to bring them out of the state of hidden life.

The results of the Russian scientists attracted the attention of researchers from Germany, who were studying the unusual survival mechanisms of nematodes. They conducted an analysis of the genome of the animals found and discovered that one of the species was previously unknown to science. It got a name Panagrolaimus kolymaensisin honor of the Kolyma River, in the vicinity of which it was found.

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The nematode Panagrolaimus kolymaensisAlexei V. Tchesunov/Anastasia Shatilovich/Institute of Physicochemical and Biological Problems in Soil Science RAS

The secret of longevity

In the next stage of the study, the scientists decided to compare the ancient organism with a modern nematode. A species was selected for this purpose Caenorhabditis elegans, one of the best-known invertebrates belonging to this type. Researchers compared the genomes of both organisms and subjected them to severe tests, leading to partial desiccation and freezing.

As it turned out, the larvae C. elegantthat can survive in extremely dry conditions, possessed the same set of genes as their ancestral cousins. When both species were dried, they began to mass-produce trehalose molecules – these are probably what help them survive extreme conditions, although scientists do not yet know the exact mechanism. The accumulation of sugar allowed the larvae to survive for 480 days at -80 degrees Celsius.

‘Our findings are crucial for understanding evolutionary processes,’ explained Philipp Schiffer of the University of Cologne, one of the authors of the paper. ‘Studying how species adapt to such extreme environments by analyzing their genomes will help us develop better conservation strategies in the face of global warming,’ he added.

Main photo source: Alexei V. Tchesunov/Anastasia Shatilovich/Institute of Physicochemical and Biological Problems in Soil Science RAS

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