In a groundbreaking scientific achievement, researchers have successfully revived a worm that had been frozen for 46,000 years in the Siberian permafrost. The roundworm, belonging to a previously unknown species, was discovered 40 meters below the surface in a dormant state known as cryptobiosis. This state allows organisms to endure extreme conditions such as the complete absence of water or oxygen, high temperatures, freezing, or extremely salty conditions.
The worm was discovered by scientists from the Institute of Physicochemical and Biological Problems in Soil Science in Russia. One of the researchers, Anastasia Shatilovich, managed to revive two of the worms by rehydrating them with water. She then transported around 100 worms to labs in Germany for further analysis.
Radiocarbon analysis of the plant material in the sample established that the deposits had not been thawed since between 45,839 and 47,769 years ago. Genetic analysis conducted by scientists in Dresden and Cologne revealed that these worms belonged to a novel species, which researchers named Panagrolaimus kolymaenis.
The researchers found that P. kolymaenis shared a molecular toolkit with C. elegans, another organism often used in scientific studies. This toolkit, which includes the production of a sugar called trehalose, possibly enables these organisms to endure freezing and dehydration.
This significant discovery underscores the resilience of life and opens up new possibilities for understanding cryptobiosis, a state between life and death where metabolic rates decrease to an undetectable level. The revival of the worm after millennia in a frozen state is a testament to the remarkable survival mechanisms of life on Earth.