'Zombie' organism comes back to life after 24,000 years

Twenty-four thousand years after it was frozen in northeastern Siberia’s permafrost, a tiny creature has sprung back to life.

Resembling a worm, the multicellular organism, known as a bdelloid rotifer, was found by Russian scientists 3.5 metres below ground in the Yakutia region.

Once free, the microscopic creature was observed reproducing asexually, with the findings published in journal Current Biology this month.

Bdelloid rotifer pictured under a microscope.
A bdelloid rotifer viewed under a microscope. Source: Reuters

Found in freshwater habitats, bdelloid rotifer are known for their ability to withstand extreme temperatures, however this is the longest the organism is known to have ever survived being frozen.

Radiocarbon dating of organic material found alongside the organisms suggested they were 23,960 to 24,485 years old, and scientists believe they can rule out them being present through contamination.

Using biochemical mechanisms the creatures are believed to survive low temperatures with organ and cell shielding.

Second, older discovery found in permafrost

Scientists theorise the species is able to use horizontal gene transfer and utilise foreign DNA to repair itself after dehydration.

Research team member Stanislav Malyavin told Reuters the organism reached a state comparable to clinical death in humans, but then came back to life.

He said their metabolism slows to a point which cannot be measured by scientific equipment, so the loss of life cannot be ruled out entirely.

“Their cells are damaged so after reactivation of their metabolism they need some time to rebuild their physiological functions so that they work properly,” he said.

The bdelloid rotifers were not the oldest discovery in the permafrost, with scientists also unearthing seed tissue which were regenerated into whole campion plants.

An aerial view of the Siberian permafrost.
The tiny creatures were found 3.5 metres underground in the Siberian permafrost. Source: Reuters

Researchers believe their paper will further our practical uses of cryobiology and biotechnology as well as our understanding of evolutionary biology.

With Reuters.

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