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Scientists revive 46,000-year-old worm

(Provided Photo/CNN/ Shatilovich et al, 2023, PLOS Genetics, CC-BY 4.0)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH)- How about some strange science?

When I was a kid I remember watching “Jurassic Park,” which is based on the idea of extracting the DNA from a prehistoric mosquito trapped in amber.

In a way, fiction is now meeting reality – scientists have revived a worm that was frozen 46,000 years ago.

During that period, woolly mammoths, saber-toothed tigers, and giant elks still roamed Earth.

The worm survived below the surface of the Siberian permafrost in a dormant state known as cryptobiosis.

Teymuras Kurzchalia is a professor emeritus at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Germany. He is also one of the scientists involved in the research.

Kurzchalia says organisms in a cryptobiotic state can go without water or oxygen. They can also withstand high temperatures, as well as freezing or extremely salty conditions.

They remain in a state “between death and life,” in which their metabolic rates decrease to an undetectable level.

This isn’t the first time reviving an organism from cryptobiosis has been done. But, according to Kurzchalia, previous research into cryptobiosis showed organisms revived after decades rather than millennia.

Five years ago, scientists from the Institute of Physicochemical and Biological Problems in Soil Science in Russia found two roundworm species in the Siberian permafrost.

One of the researchers, Anastasia Shatilovich, revived two of the worms at the institute by simply rehydrating them with water. She took around 100 worms in her pocket to labs in Germany for further analysis.

“One can halt life and then start it from the beginning. This a major finding,” Kurzchalia said.

What does this all mean?

Philipp Schiffer, a research group leader of the Institute of Zoology at the University of Cologne involved in the study, says feats like this can provide new information on how to conserve these species.

 “By looking at and analyzing these animals, we can maybe inform conservation biology, or maybe even develop efforts to protect other species. Or at least learn what to do to protect them in these extreme conditions that we have now,” Schiffer said.