Imagine if we could take a wooly mammoth or a saber-toothed tiger, both of which are extinct creatures, and simply unfreeze its cells, breathe life into it, and, voila, we have new living, breathing, and eating species.
It’d be something of a miracle, wouldn’t it? Or at the very least, straight out of science fiction…
And yet, that miracle has just become a reality, just on a much smaller scale.
No, no one’s brought back the wooly mammoth. However, a team of Russian scientists did just successfully bring back a rotifer that is thought to have been lying dormant in the permafrost of Siberia for some 24,000 years.
(It is noted that the report and science this find is based on runs contrary to the Young Earth creationism idea, which claims that the earth was created in six days and is no older than 10,000 years. As such, any age-related claims are based on the notion that the world is much older.)
If you’re unfamiliar with a rotifer, it is a microscopic aquatic and worm-like invertebrate of which there are some 2,000 known species. Modern rotifers can be found in many freshwater environments or in moist soil, where they live in the thin film that forms across the top of the water. They are living, breathing animals, complete with a brain and nervous system.
This one was found frozen in northeast Siberia by Stas Malavin of Russia’s Pushchino Scientific Center for Biological Research and his team. After unearthing the creature, they literally warmed it up and offered it food.
And it ate, according to the report. Shortly afterward, the rotifer became active and began reproducing by cloning itself.
So how is this possible?
Well, at this point, we can only guess.
Malavin says several creatures, including those closely related to the rotifer, have exhibited survivalist traits that have allowed them to become nearly freeze resistant. Nematode worms, for example, are thought to be capable of surviving freezing temperatures for some 30,000 years.
However, a rotifer has never been known to survive nearly that long. That is until now.
Malavin noted to NewScientist that these microscopic animals have a “multitude of survival mechanisms” which allow them to live for very long periods of time in extreme conditions. However, these “mechanisms are surprisingly poorly known, I would say.”
He added that for most creatures like rotifers, science has still been unable to determine just how long they can live in such conditions.
Malavin explains that this is because it is still unknown how they live so long in the first place. There are two basic options.
One is that they stop their metabolism completely. If this is the case, Malavin surmises that rotifers and similar creatures could live in freezing permafrost temperatures much longer than this one did, as they don’t actually need anything to eat or drink to keep it alive.
The other option is that their metabolism is simply slowed. In this case, they could live for quite a long but would eventually need sustenance.
Still, in either case, some 24,000 years is a long time, indeed.
Malavin believes this is a new species of rotifer, never found before. According to his team’s report, its genome is sequenced most similarly to the Adineta vaga species of rotifer, which is “thought to include multiple subspecies that haven’t been properly identified.”
And this leads Malavin to say, “We are quite confident that this is a new species for science.”
It’s an incredible discovery, to be sure. And one that opens all sorts of new doors for science.
However, with those new doors, it goes without saying that caution is much-needed. For now, and given the studies already done on the newly found and revitalized species, it’s doubtful much harm could come to humanity from this find. The same might not be able to be said about future discoveries, though…
Only time will tell what this find and others mean for life on earth, whether from our past, present, or future.