Russian scientists have revived a tiny animal that they say spent 24,000 years frozen in permafrost near the Alazeya River in Siberia.
It sounds like science fiction, right? Not this time.
The rotifer — an animal complete with a brain and nervous system — contrasts with simple bacterial organisms thought to survive for millennia in such icy conditions, Stas Malavin of Russia’s Pushchino Scientific Center for Biological Research said, according to NewScientist.
Rotifers have never been known to survive the frozen conditions for so long in the past, but the report stated this isn’t exactly a record for “freeze-tolerant” animals, considering nematode worms have supposedly surpassed the 24,000-year mark by at least 6,000 years.
It is important to note that most of the scientific literature regarding this discovery operates under assumptions that run contrary to Young Earth creationism, which holds that the world was created in six days no more than 10,000 years ago. The Western Journal is presenting claims made by these scientists to its readers, but is not confirming the legitimacy of those age-related claims.
Still, the development is a breakthrough for science.
After Malavin and his team of researchers found the unique worm-like creature in northeast Siberia, they warmed it up and offered it food.
According to the report, the rotifer ate the food, then became active and reproduced by cloning itself.
So, how exactly did this little guy survive the permafrost for as long as scientists believe he did?
Malavin says that isn’t clear, but the survivalist trait also exists in modern rotifers — even when his research team reportedly tested temperatures of minus 15 degrees Celsius on the ancient rotifer’s offspring.
NewScientist added that these tiny animals have a “multitude of survival mechanisms” that equip them with the ability to live in extreme conditions for so long.
“The mechanisms are surprisingly poorly known, I would say,” Malavin said, adding another unique fact: Scientists still don’t know just how long rotifers or other freeze-tolerant organisms can survive in the ice.
In theory, researchers believe rotifers could survive much longer than this one did, depending on which survival mechanism the animal employs.
Malavin said these animals can either drastically slow their metabolism or stop it completely in order to survive freezing temperatures.
If their metabolism stops altogether, the researcher theorized rotifers could survive in permafrost longer than the one his team unearthed.
If the rotifer slows its metabolism instead, however, it would need food to survive any substantial amount of time.
Regardless, it’s hard to imagine finding a creature that laid restively in the ice for what scientists say was approximately 24,000 years.
“We are quite confident that this is a new species for science,” Malavin said after his team sequenced the animal’s genome and found it most closely resembled the Adineta vaga species, which the report stated is “thought to include multiple subspecies that haven’t been properly identified.”
Perhaps this rotifer is one of those subspecies mentioned.
But, going forward, we can only wonder what discoveries of this sort could mean.
What if scientists unearth a dormant deadly virus or bacteria entombed in ice and this discovery wreaks havoc on humanity?
A little worm like the rotifer most likely won’t do any harm to anyone, but it isn’t difficult to imagine what could come about if we uncover a wrong piece of the past.
Regardless, this unique find is sure to keep Russian scientists on their toes and on the lookout for other potential discoveries in the future.
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