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Scientists dug up the tiny worm-like creature, called a bdelloid rotifer, in Siberia, and once thawed, it was able to reproduce.

Jun 8, 2021

Researchers have uncovered a microscopic creature that managed to survive after being frozen for about 24,000 years in Siberia.
Scientists dug up the tiny worm-like creature, called a bdelloid rotifer, from the Alazeya River in the Russian Arctic.
Once slowly thawed in a lab, the microscopic multi-celled organisms were able to reproduce asexually, scientists found. The tiny invertebrates were also able to feed.
Their study was published in the journal Current Biology on Tuesday (NZ time).
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Known as an Arctic rotifer, the creatures measures less than a millimetre. Despite its small size, it has a complete digestive tract including a mouth.
The microscopic multicellular animals typically live in watery environments and are known for their ability to survive extremely low temperatures.
Previous reports suggested they could survive up to a decade when frozen between 20C to 0C.
However, in the new study the scientists state that the bdelloid rotifer recovered from northeastern Siberian permafrost was around 24,000 years old.
This constitutes the longest reported case of rotifer survival in a frozen state, the authors said.
The scientists found the creatures in a core of frozen soil extracted from the Siberian permafrost using a drilling rig, CNN reported.
As part of their study, the researchers froze and thawed some modern day rotifers living in permafrost areas. They found some of the creatures could withstand the formation of ice crystals in the freezing process. While not all of them survived, study suggested that the creatures had some mechanism that could shield them from harm at very low temperatures.
Clearly, the ancient rotifer is capable of surviving a relatively slow freezing process that allows ice crystals detrimental for cells to form, the authors wrote in the study.
In combination with its occurrence in permafrost, this suggests that the discovered [rotifers] has effective biochemical mechanisms of organ and cell shielding necessary to survive low temperatures. Our discovery is of interest not only for evolutionary biology but also for practical purposes of cryobiology and biotechnology, the authors stated.
The takeaway is that a multicellular organism can be frozen and stored as such for thousands of years and then return back to life a dream of many fiction writers, Stas Malavin, one of the study’s authors told the Press Association.
Of course, the more complex the organism, the trickier it is to preserve it alive frozen and, for mammals, it’s not currently possible. Yet, moving from a single-celled organism to an organism with a gut and brain, though microscopic, is a big step forward, he was reported saying.
Further research was needed to find out how the tiny creatures achieved such a feat, he said.
The Guardian also reported Malavin stating that the rotifers found in the permafrost would have likely been under the feet of big woolly creatures which were now extinct.
Last year, a well-preserved Ice Age woolly rhino with many of its internal organs still intact was recovered from permafrost in Russia’s extreme north.
In recent years mammoths, woolly rhinos, an Ice Age foal, and cave lion cubs have emerged from the frozen areas of Siberia.