By Tim Binnall
Akin to the opening scene of a sci-fi film wherein things subsequently go horribly awry, scientists have managed to revive an ancient multicellular creature that had been frozen in the Arctic ice for the last 24,000 years. According to a press release, researchers at a lab in Russia successfully thawed out the bdelloid rotifer, which is a tiny organism renowned for its ability to survive in extreme conditions, from a chunk of permafrost that was retrieved from a remote Siberian location using a drilling rig. Incredibly, upon being unfrozen, the creature was then able to reproduce by way of an asexual process known as parthenogenesis.
"The takeaway is that a multicellular organism can be frozen and stored as such for thousands of years and then return back to life," declared Stas Malavin of the Pushchino Scientific Center for Biological Research. Observing that this scenario is "a dream of many fiction writers," he cautioned that "the more complex the organism, the trickier it is to preserve it alive frozen and, for mammals, it's not currently possible." That said, he also acknowledged that the rotifer research is a "big step forward" as it constitutes "moving from a single-celled organism to an organism with a gut and brain."
While the scientists may have established that the microscopic creature can survive being frozen for thousands of years, the more mysterious matter which remains unanswered is how this is possible. To that end, they intend to continue their research on rotifers in the hopes of determining what it is about the hearty creature that allows it to protect its cells and organs from being damaged when subjected to such extreme temperatures for long periods of time. And, ultimately, the goal is to take the lessons learned from the tiny animals and, if possible, apply them to much larger organisms, specifically humans.