Tue, 28 May 2013 05:30 CDT
© Shaughn Butts , Edmonton Journal
University of Alberta Professor Catherine La Farge has grown moss from a 400-year-old specimen discovered frozen under an Arctic glacier.
In Arctic summers, Catherine La Farge camps out at the toe of the Teardrop glacier on Ellesmere Island in Canada's North.
The University of Alberta biologist has watched the ice retreat, up to four metres a year now, giving her an unprecedented view of what was entombed under the ice for 400 years - old rocks, mud, and her specialty, ancient moss.
One day, walking along the edge of the ice, La Farge noticed some of the moss had a greenish tinge. That gave her a hunch - could there be life in that old moss after all?
In an amazing experiment, La Farge found the frozen moss was able to revive itself though it had been buried since the Little Ice Age (1550-1850). Her study, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science
, is shaking up some basic assumptions about land plants.
In the past, when scientists occasionally came across plant material previously frozen under an Arctic glacier, they assumed the plant material was dead. Discoloured and lifeless, it certainly looked like it was.