A Glimpse of the Past with ‘Resurrection Ecology’

MAMMOTHLately, there have been a number of experiments in which scientists have revived various dormant organisms, some of which were discovered to be thousands of years old.  These experiments have allowed researchers to use bacteria, viruses, plants, and animals to see the past in a unique way. This type of research has been labeled ‘resurrection ecology.’

Not long ago, the idea of bringing back a species via cloning was the subject of sci-fi blockbusters like Jurassic Park. However, in a recent NY Times article, a Russian professor discussed a mammoth dissection, saying there is hope that DNA will be found- making the idea of cloning the animal possible.

For now, exploring the process of reviving dormant organisms is a popular area of research. A recent study by Dr. Peter Convey and his colleagues at the British Antarctic Survey on Signy Island involved reviving moss samples that later turned out to be 1500 years old.

Zintro expert Dr. Mohammad Alavi is a microbiologist and research scientist, skilled in molecular and cellular biology techniques. He shares his thoughts about resurrection ecology. “It is well known that some unicellular microorganisms have dormant physiological states, in the form of spore or cyst, that can withstand harsh environmental conditions for long periods of time. But this is the first report of long-term dormancy in a multicellular organism. The importance of this [moss] study lies in its potential to help understanding mechanisms of long-term dormancy in multicellular organisms via cryopreservation .”

As far as what these studies could mean down the line, Dr. Alavi says,“The future implication of such studies may include survival during long term space travels, and cryopreservation of multicellular organisms, including humans, for future resuscitation. However, calling such research resurrection ecology may not be accurate. Natural selection and evolution work on a much longer time span than 1500 years and resurrection of one isolated species in the laboratory environment is not an ecological experiment.”
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