Russian scientists awaken a 50,000-year-old worm from permafrost

To date, this worm is the animal that has resisted the longest in the state of cryptobiosis

by Lorenzo Ciotti
SHARE
Russian scientists awaken a 50,000-year-old worm from permafrost

From Russian permafrost to us: Scientists and researchers have brought back to life, or rather, awakened, an almost 50,000-year-old nematode worm. The newly awakened species was named Panagrolaimus kolymaensis and, according to scholars' calculations, had been in cryptobiosis for 46,000 years.

This was discovered by an international research team led by Russian scientists from the Pushchino Institute of Physico-Chemical and Biological Problems in Soil Science and the RAS Zoological Institute in St. Petersburg, who collaborated closely with colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, the Institute of Zoology of the University of Cologne, the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Cambridge.

The researchers pointed out that with the melting of the permafrost due to climate change, viruses, bacteria and even nematodes of groups believed to be extinct could re-emerge in the future, with potential risks for public health, given that our immune system would not be able to deal with potential pathogens.

Russian scientists awaken a 50,000-year-old worm from permafrost

The samples were collected in the northeastern Siberian coastal area of the Arctic, in the Duvanny Yar Formation near the Kolyma River. Duvanny Yar is a late Pleistocene formation composed of perennial silt and ice deposits, in the heart of which it is possible to find the remains of frozen prehistoric organisms.

Through radiocarbon dating of plant material found near the organism it was determined that the initiation of cryptobiosis occurred in a range between 45,839 and 47,769 years ago. The recovery was done in the laboratory, taken from a core of Siberian permafrost.

To date, this worm is the animal that has resisted the longest in the state of cryptobiosis. Permafrost is mainly present in the arctic regions, near the poles, but also in the high mountains. It is estimated that the surfaces with permafrost concern 20% of the emerged lands and as much as 20-24% of the northern hemisphere.

Permafrost can reach depths of 1500 m in northern Siberia and several hundred meters in Alaska and Canada. Permafrost can be found in cold deserts and continues beyond the coast under cold shallow seas.