Millennial rotifers revived in Russian laboratory

Rotifers are strange microscopic (0.1-0.5 mm in length) animals that swim with the help of the rotifer – a complex system of cilia at the front end of the body. However, they can also crawl with their feet. Some do not crawl or swim, but sit still, attaching themselves to some surface using the same leg. In structure as a whole, they are so different from other animals that they were singled out as a separate type.

Rotifers are able to withstand adverse conditions for a long time. For example, they can be frozen to -20 ° C, and then thawed after ten years, and they will be alive. But these ten years are nothing compared to the 24,000 years that rotifers resurrected at the Institute of Physicochemical and Biological Problems of Soil Science (IPHiBPP) of the Russian Academy of Sciences spent in the permafrost.

In general, talking about resurrection here is not entirely true. Rotifers do not die, but plunge into cryptobiosis when the body becomes dehydrated and the metabolism almost completely stops; at the same time, special molecular mechanisms are triggered that protect biomolecules in cells from damage. So it is better to say that the rotifers were not revived or resurrected, but simply thawed. They were taken from the Siberian permafrost, from a layer whose age was approximately 24 thousand years, as mentioned above. They turned out to be bdelloid rotifers of the genus Adineta… (Bdelloid rotifers not only swim, but also crawl, alternately rearranging their head and tail, like leeches.)

Crawling millennial rotifer. (Illustration: Lyubov Shmakova / IPHiBPP RAS)

The thawed rotifers began not only to crawl, but also to multiply: in an article in Current Biology it is said that new generations of rotifers soon appeared in the nutrient medium, descended from millennial ancestors. Bdelloid rotifers can reproduce parthenogenetically, that is, without fertilization, so that all new rotifers, from a genetic point of view, were clones of their parents.

By studying rotifers and similar creatures, you can learn more about how they manage to plunge into and out of cryptobiosis. Perhaps the mechanism of cryptobiosis can be partially used in our tissues and organs – this would be very useful for medicine. But in general, immersion in dehydrated sleep is available only for some plants and microscopic animals. For example, several years ago it was possible to unfreeze nematode worms in the same way, which spent about 32 thousand and 42 thousand years in the permafrost; and even earlier it was possible to “resurrect” the moss, which has spent fifteen hundred years in the Antarctic ice. Unfortunately or fortunately, such a trick is impossible with mammoths and cave bears.

Source: Автономная некоммерческая организация "Редакция журнала «Наука и жизнь»" by

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