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400-Year-Old Frozen Plants Revive [VIDEO]

Update Date: May 28, 2013 09:38 AM EDT
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Despite being frozen for nearly 400 years, scientists reported that the plants they recovered from the time period, the Little Ice Age have begun to sprout once again. A group from the University of Alberta found these plants, known as bryophytes when the group was exploring the regions near the Teardrop Glacier on Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic. The plants were only discovered due to the receding glaciers in that area, which exposed land that was covered by ice for centuries. Now, the plants' revival could provide scientists more information about how ecosystems change and survive through severe weather changes, like the long period of the Little Ice Age between AD 1550 and AD 1850.

"We ended up waling along the edge of the glacier margin and we saw these huge populations coming out from underneath the glacier that seemed to have a greenish tint," the lead author of the study, Catherine La Farge, said reported by BBC. "If you think ice sheets covering the landscape, we've always thought that plants have to come in from refugia around the margins of an ice system, never considering land plants as coming out from underneath a glacier."

Although scientists have known that bryophytes can survive through long winters, the researchers were surprised that four centuries did not interfere with the plants' natural process of returning to life during warmer temperatures. Bryophytes are land plants that do not have vascular tissue, which is responsible for pumping fluids throughout the organism. When the plant was brought back to the laboratory and analyzed, the research team discovered that the plant sample was still green and definitely still growing. There was significant stem growth of green lateral branches. The scientists stated that the area has been experiencing glacier melting, which could reveal more species or more information about the bryophytes within the next years.

"It's a whole world of what's coming out from underneath the glaciers that really needs to be studied," She added. "The glaciers are disappearing pretty fast - they're going to expose all this terrestrial vegetation, and that's going to have a big impact."

The study was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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