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Worms frozen in permafrost for up to 42,000 years come back to life (siberiantimes.com)
507 points by keeler 10 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 149 comments

For anyone wondering about previous precedents for reviving frozen multicellular creatures, here's my response to a now-deleted comment:

There are shorter-term examples of frogs [0] (up to a few years) and tardigrades [1] (30 years) but I haven't heard of anything on this timescale before.



Edit: formatting

Tardigrades are hardcore.

From Wikipedia: Tardigrades are considered to be able to survive even complete global mass extinction events due to astrophysical events, such as gamma-ray bursts, or large meteorite impacts. Some of them can withstand extremely cold temperatures down to 1 K (−458 °F; −272 °C) (close to absolute zero), while others can withstand extremely hot temperatures up to 420 K (300 °F; 150 °C) for several minutes, pressures about six times greater than those found in the deepest ocean trenches, ionizing radiation at doses hundreds of times higher than the lethal dose for a human, and the vacuum of outer space. They can go without food or water for more than 30 years, drying out to the point where they are 3% or less water, only to rehydrate, forage, and reproduce. Tardigrades that live in harsh conditions undergo an annual process of cyclomorphosis, allowing for survival in sub-zero temperatures.


They actually aren't very tough unless they are prodded into going into a sort of hibernation called cryptobiosis. If the temperature changes too quickly, they die quite easily.


Awesome. This is how Trisolarians might look like.

For those who don't catch it, it's from the "the three body problem" book. I highly recommend it to anyone if you like a techy sci fi with philosophical questions.

Actually, its from a full trilogy: “The Three Body Problem”, “The Dark Forest” and “Death’s End”. Wonderful books and indeed wholly recommended to any sci-fi buff.

For anyone who missed this, it's being made into a tv series: https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/news/the...

There's also a ton of cryopreservation in the trilogy, especially the third book.

Unscientific trope of pure love: In German they are called Bärtierchen (lose translation: bear-thingies) whose name and appearance is reminiscent of gummy-bears.

translates more like "bear animal" actually

Tierchen is surely cuter than just Animal? Like maybe like critter or beastie?


"Tier" would be an animal of sorts. "chen" is a common suffix for cutiefying something or indicate it's small (and adorable).

"Tierchen" would be a cute animal, usually a small one too.

The suffixes "-lein" und "-erl" function similarly but have been largely replaced in common german (though in southern germany, both are alive and well)

The linguistic term for what you are describing is "diminutive".

I assuem that's the "-lein" in "Fraulein"? Is "-erl" the masculine version?

Hmm, interesting to try and pinpoint the difference between "lein" and "erl". I would say they are both diminutive but not exactly in the same way.

erl ... would be more related to the actual size

  Sack -> Sackerl (bag -> small bag)
  Wagen -> Wagerl (cart -> small cart)
lein ... would be more related to the inner size (sorry I can't frame this into words any better)

  Frau -> Fräulein (Woman -> Younger/Fragile woman (unmarried))
  Wagen -> Wäglein (Cart -> smaller but also lesser cart)
edit: referring to the answer of pavel_lishin. Yes "qualitative" modifier was the word I am looking for.

"erl" seems to be a purely quantitative diminutive, whereas "lein" seems to be more of a qualitative modifier, I guess?

It is the "-lein" in "Fräulein", but "-lein" isn't only for feminine nouns: the word "Männlein" also exists. I suspect "-erl" is the same, though I don't speak a dialect where it's used; some dialects have "-l" or "-li" which can also attach to any gender of noun (as in "Hansl" and "Gretl")

Awesome, thanks!

In English they’re also called water bears.

We should seed the universe with tardigrades. It sounds like they deserve it.

Perhaps the tardigrades have already done that.

Considering they've been around for the five major extinction events here on Earth, some of which involved very large impacts, it is almost certain that there are, to this day, bits of frozen, orbiting ejecta that actually do contain tardigrades.

Still viable? Almost certainly not. But it makes for a fun what if to ponder on the other option!

Or maybe tardigrades seeded Earth with our ancestors. Maybe tardis and tardigrade come from the same ancient language. If so, I for one am ready to serve our diminutive overlords.

What if we have the little ones, but normal tardigrades are gigantic, and like to eat stars, huh? I mean, come on.

Sounds like a reliable self-repairing and self-replicating storage solution. Encode the data in their dna and secure it with a hash.

And chain that hash to the next self-replicated individual to form a bioblockchain, to distribute copies and achieve bioconsensus. I worry though about viral 51% attacks.

Is there any speculation in the scientific community as to why they developed these adaptations?

> multicellular creatures

Then plants also qualify.


  > Some 300 prehistoric worms were analysed - and two ‘were shown to contain viable nematodes’.
This sounds like 300 non-nematode worms were examined, and two of them contained viable nematodes as parasites. Is that correct? Because everything else in the article sounds like the nematodes are the worms, rather than were in the worms.

It's a tiny detail, but it's bugging me.

Yes, poor article, it's not 300 worms but 300 permafrost samples, of which two contained an unspecified number of viable nematodes :https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1134%2FS00124966180...

> We analyzed more than 300 samples of permafrost deposits of different ages and origins, buried soils and fossil rodent burrows. Two samples were shown to contain viable nematodes.

It does say “They are both believed to be female,” so, unless it’s a translation error, it’s referring to 2 worms, not 2 samples.

I understand that those are Roundworms, not tardigrades. If they start to feed inmediately I understand also that aren't a parasitic species. There are a lot of species living freely in the soil.

Why the article was published just now (the samples were taken in 2015) is a most interesting question. Probably related with the current rush to explore the martian ice pole to find life. The siberian experts would add a invaluable experience in how to attack this drill problem avoiding contamination of the sample, and taking a undisturbed core-layers of ice to date it and understand the past climate of mars.

Hum, It seems that they belong to genus Plectus. This genus have some deep-dwelling species of free-living roundworms. At least eight species of Plectus are well adapted to live in very cold and dry ecosystems from Antarctica also.

What is worrying me is that nematodes are supposed to be killed by shock frosting fish for 24h.

I thought shock frosting meant -18°C.

Anisakis is a totally different animal, adapted to live in a stable and warm place inside a bigger animal.

Nematodes are funny. I was curious, so I bought a simple inspection microscope and bought some agar plates with E.Coli on them. You can easily sample nematodes by cutting up rotting fruit and putting it on the edge of the plates. the nematodes will cruise out of the fruit and cruise around the E.Coli eating it, leaving tracks. Then you can make a worm pick, isolate and clean nematodes, and transfer them to other plates or slides for closer inspection.

Of all the model organisms, C. Elegans is far and away the most amazing.

Nematodes, which were revived here, were also the first cellular species which was found to survive deep in the earths crust - in a study which also featured one of the same Princeton researchers (T. C. Onstott [1]) collaborating with a different group of international researchers:

> "Nematode found in mine is first subsurface multicellular organism"

> Until now, it was thought that the temperature, energy, oxygen and space constraints of the subsurface biosphere were too extreme for multicellular organisms. [2]

This is interesting news but I'm curious if this will be largely limited to this unique type of (multicellular) organism which can survive extreme conditions?

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tullis_Onstott

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/07/science/07obworm.html

EDIT: It's legit. Thanks to the commenter below.

Can anyone in Russia confirm if this is a legit news story? It's being repeated throughout tabloids in the West all referencing this English language Siberian publication, as well as hordes of definite news apsm sites, all appear to be using the same generic images and verbetium or almost verbetium text.

Yes, I found a pretty legit article actually naming researchers and having better pictures, but it says 30 000 years. Says the paper about this is published in presumably Russian journal 'Doklady Biological Sciences' and there were collaborators in Princeton.


The OP article mentions two worms, one from around 30,000 years ago and the other from around 42,000.

Dated how, because normally you date permafrost on the layers, but worms by their nature move. Perhaps they're (much) younger but burrowed down?

I was wondering that. It seems a more likely hypothesis unless they have some good way of dating them. Maybe carbon date the worm body?

Edit - the paper says

>Some factors prevent the opportunity for nematodes to penetrate into permafrost strata many meters deep from the superposed modern tundra soil. The depth of seasonal thawing in the regions under study is up to 80 cm and was no more than 1.5 m even about 9000 years ago, during the Holocene Thermal Maximum.

and the samples were 30m down so they are arguing the worms couldn't make it though they have only carbon dated the general soil samples and not the worm bodies.

Thanks for RTFA and reporting back.


the affiliations list top Russian schools as well as Princeton.

Thanks. If anyone wants easy access using, uhhh, a friend, here is the DOI


Just fyi: the term you wanted to use was "verbatim", meaning "word for word"

google search of this news in Russian language provides multiple references, but most of them do not seem very reliable. The titles look like a click bait. "Ancient creatures have awakened in Russia! No one knows what it is!".

I thought the half life of DNA was around 400 years. Anyone know how this is possible?

Halflife under normal circumstances. Deepfreezing it is not the usual for DNA. Just like your meat and vegetables are still edible when you freeze them a year later and spoil in a matter of hours or days at higher temperatures.


So that's at 13.1 degrees, quote from the end of that paper:

"Our results indicate that short fragments of DNA could be present for a very long time; at –5°C, the model predicts a half-life of 158 000 years for a 30 bp mtDNA fragment in bone (table 1). Even rough estimates such as this imply that sequenceable bone DNA fragments may still be present more than 1 Myr after deposition in deep frozen environments. It therefore seems reasonable to suggest that future research may identify authentic DNA that is significantly older than the current record of approximately 450–800 kyr from Greenlandic ice cores".

So even if they don't have a thermal model where you plug in any temperature and it will give you the half life there is good evidence that lower temperatures significantly increase the chances of DNA remaining intact for much longer than the above-zero half life would suggest.

Since (some) nematodes eat poop, could we get viable megafauna DNA this way?

just find the poop and get the DNA from there? What does the worm add?

That’s very interesting, thanks! I now need to go read more about those 450,000 year old fragments.

That is if completely unmaintained and under much worse conditions.

Bacteria in the permafrost have been found to have been repairing their DNA for almost half a million years. IIRC they aren't really active, they don't reproduce at all, only a very minimal level of metabolism is maintained to repair occuring damage in the cell.

The Worms could be similar. Being frozen, they merely shut down everything but the absolute minimum of metabolism, likely powered by minute temperature differences or incoming light from the outside or many of the other options, just enough to keep the DNA and cell intact, the worm itself would likely be considered dead in it's frozen state.

But they are waiting.

This depends only on system input energy statistics.

At low temperatures (the lower you go) and low radiation (the lower you go) there is not enough energy in the system to exceed activation energy and break down DNA (meaning statistically it's extremely unlikely (arbitrarily) for enough energy to enter the system in a short enough period of time to break down the structure) (there's always the minuscule chance that some wavefunction posits enough energy into the system of course).

DNA can be repaired. Decay of organic structures is mostly just breaking apart. This is much more reversible than reproducing radioactive elements from decay products.

Ideal conditions in very cold temperatures.

it depends on the moisture, salt, and temperature conditions. DNA kept in dry, cool conditions with the right salt concentrations is effectively stable (very very low base transversion and strand breakage rates).

This is great news for everyone on the Paleo Diet.

Could you elaborate? How is this finding related?

Paleolithic Era pun maybe? No idea hahah

I assume it's because now there's literally something for you to eat from the paleolithic?

What a shitty reporting: no reporter name, no scientist(s) name. Coming from the country where secret services are known to fake urine samples from sportsmen... I wouldn't take it at the face value...

What, you don't think anyone would be named "The Siberian Times reporter"?

Does it mean there are chances of finding something alive in permafrost on Mars?

Would these worms have been snap-frozen? I.e., they did not freeze slowly so that ice crystals did not form in their cells killing them. How would snap freezing work in these environments.

cryptobiosis. they have the ability to remove the majority of water, which greatly reduces enzyme activity, and package everything so it stays pretty stable but reactivates when wetted and warmed.

Does this make these worms the oldest living things?

Yes, according to the article.

No, it said oldest living animals.

Works are from Animal kingdom. So yeah, the oldest living animal in that way. Oldest bacteria is over half a million years old.

Genome sequencing of the progeny might show mutational biases during the frozen state (in the gonads, at least). It would probably be necessary to sequence an extant population to distinguish between population genetic changes (i.e., evolution) and mutation bias.

Also, reminds old x-files episode https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ice_(The_X-Files) Hope mass rage has not started yet in Siberia.

Me too, which reminds me, I really need to re-watch all of them one of these days.

hurry up; don't wait until these worms crawl after you! :-)

also Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer from SNL

So these are probably the oldest living organisms in existence then, huh? I'm not aware of anything that's older than 42000 years, but I'd be amazed to be wrong :)

Spores in amber and salt deposits have been revived after 40 and 240 million years, respectively.

There are colonial organisms over 40,000 years old.




There are many reasons to doubt that the '240 million year old bacteria' were actually 240 million years old.


True, though even without those, we're well past 42,000 years.

It's not noise, it's contamination with modern bacteria.

Given how many times claims such as these have been brought under question, and how easy it is to make a mistake in this discipline, a single, uncorroborated publication is insufficient evidence.

Truly extraordinary claims require truly extraordinary evidence, and this one smells fishy, too. [1]

> Our interpretation of the phylogenetic tree constructed from 16S rRNA sequences (fig. 1b and SI table 3) suggests that isolates 41_AG11AC7 and 46_AG11AC9a are likely Staphylococcus species, which are not known to sporulate and are also common microorganisms on the human skin.

> The authors also fail to present negative control sequences to confirm that the DNA sequences presented within this study are not the results of laboratory or reagent contamination, rather than contamination that likely occurred in 1995

They didn't even do any control runs to calibrate their experiment! Sounds like junk science to me.

[1] https://oup.silverchair-cdn.com/oup/backfile/Content_public/...

Marine colonial cnidarians could theoretically fight also for that title, but the oldest alive Black corals are dated "only" 4000 years old or so.

What i find most interesting must be how this sort of creature came to be. It's "evolutionary strategy" must be to simply get frozen, only to get defrozen every thousand years or so, eat and procreate, then when the cold comes get frozen once more for even more years.

So, I just assume that this creature must've survived several hundreds of thousands of years by being frozen and only procreating when the earth becomes warm enough

Life.. uh.. finds a way

Can anyone explain how the age of nematodes is confirmed to be 42,000 years from the age of deposits: The duration of natural cryopreservation of the nematodes corresponds to the age of the deposits, 30000–40000 years.

Likely the oldest living creatures in 3 billion years of life on earth.

I don't think any of them survived that long. Current record holders are some bacteria in the Russian permafrost with half a million years (without reproduction in the meantime)

This was an amazing read. Thank you for sharing this!

I doubt that any "immortal jellyfish" has actually lived that long in the wild, even though they have the theoretical potential to do so.

One thing that I have always worried about Antartic ice melting and unleashing some ancient black death like plague for which we dont have any immunity.

It would be extremely unlikely for ancient (millions years old) organism to be better at penetrating human immune system than organisms that evolved in arms race with us.

It's like taking a DOS virus and expecting it to infect iphones :)

Is it true that the human "OS" (i.e., genome) has changed that radically?

Depends how far back "ancient" is. But most sicknesses only infect closely related species, and homo sapiens is here for maybe 100 000 years, so I wouldn't be too worried.

On the other hand I'm very afraid what will happen when people can download, tweak, and 3d-print viruses as a hobby.

I suppose it's how the Earth ecosystem delivers the bill for our damaging behavior.

I still believe the planetary ecosystem has a way of ridding itself of annoying biomass if a tipping point is reached. Who knows what will hit us and how fast it will hit us.

Permafrost viruses, dramatic temperature changes and generally more energy in the weather system due to global warming, catastrophic ocean acidification leading to the death of trillions and trillions of plankton, robbing us of oxygen to breathe.... there's likely a trove of "problems" we will face sooner rather than later.

That is a typical christian thinking where you try to think of humans as sinners. The reality is that modern human is far more sensitive towards wildlife, nature, trees and air quality. A typical modern human is having less babies than ever too. We are not damaging the earth.

Isn't this part of the premise behind The Thing?

It took me way too many passes to realize that the title said "worms" and not "woman". That was really confusing.

Hopefully the web server will come back to life in less time than that

Cached version at https://archive.is/b0WjK

I really enjoy this sort of sarcasm :D

I misread the title as "Woman frozen ..." and mentally prepared myself for some existentially shattering shit.

All: please don't do threads like this here.

Indeed, if such a woman had been unfrozen, would she be too important of a scientific discovery to ever be allowed to live a normal human life again? Would she just be a research subject quarantined and experimented on for the rest of her days?

She would definitely have to be quarantined, for both her sake and ours. Neither party is likely to be sufficiently immunized against the diseases of the other's time.

What does it mean for a reanimated woman from 42000 years ago to live a "normal" life in modern times?

Many have wondered the same. I personally think Brandon Frasier's perspective in the film, "Encino Man," was quite apt.

The late Phil Hartman’s exploration as Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer was also trenchant and emotionally gripping

I doubt she would be able to learn to communicate at all, assuming this hypothetical frozen woman was and adult.

Of course she would be able to communicate. Cats and dogs can communicate to us.

Ok, communicate using complex language. She's not going to be picking up English at even a basic level.

Humans were speaking by 42,000 years ago. And even if not, she would have all the physiological equipment, unlike Koko.

Because she's a worm.

Why not? She probably already speaks more than one language, and they're probably both more complex than English. Many people learn languages quite unlike their native language late into their adulthood, but she's probably fairly young.

Why can’t she? A child comes into this world with nothing and learns to speak in time.

You can also watch Torchwood episode on this topic. It was beautiful.

Particularly a pre-Homo Sapiens Sapiens human...

42,000 years ago would be essentially equivalent to a modern human, physiologically.

All kinds of new fun diseases, probably.

Pretty sure the only viable career option for her would be Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer.

Experimented on? Seriously? The modern world does not operate according to Dr. Mengele's ethics. Anyone "experimenting on" her would receive worldwide condemnation and all sorts of criminal charges.

(Why, other than personal animus, would this be downvoted?)

Because your statement is objectively wrong. Could you not see a scenario where people would experiment on her? Behaviorly/psychologically?

No, nothing I said is objectively wrong. Regardless of whether I can see scenarios where people would experiment on her, my statement about worldwide protest and ethical standards is factual. And in any case "could you not see" is a call for a judgment; there's nothing objective about it, or elsewhere in your statement, which provides no support of any sort, let alone "objective" support, for your claim that my statement (which you don't even identify; I made more than one) is objectively wrong. And your subjective opinion that some statement of mine is wrong is not a valid basis for a downvote; I ask that you do not do that. In any case, I will not respond further.

Unfortunately, I did not downvote you. I was trying to guess why someone would downvote your comment.

Because it’s naive.

You think a 42,000 year old living human is just going to be left alone? There’s too much we can learn across a variety of subject matter to let that opportunity go to waste.

> Because it’s naive.

Such personal judgments are not valid reasons for a downvote.

> You think a 42,000 year old living human is just going to be left alone?

I said nothing of the sort. Of course she would not be left alone, any more than a mentally ill person who cannot function in society is left alone ... but we don't use them as guinea pigs. What I said was that performing experiments on her for the rest of her life would bring protests and would violate all sorts of ethical standards. It would be criminal, under current statutes.

> There’s too much we can learn across a variety of subject matter to let that opportunity go to waste.

A woman, even one 42,000 years old, is not merely an "opportunity", she's an autonomous person with human rights. But apparently the whole idea of the Enlightenment is naive.

> A woman, even one 42,000 years old, is not merely an "opportunity", she's an autonomous person with human rights. But apparently the whole idea of the Enlightenment is naive.

Nope. Her life effectively ended 42,000 years ago. Her unfreezing would basically be her afterlife.

Everything she ever knew would be dead and gone, the world would have completely changed. If we could figure out how she survived a 42,000 year freeze, it basically opens us up to interstellar space travel and expansion, even without FTL speeds. The benefits to humanity are far too great to pass them up for the selfish needs of a single individual, even if she cannot comprehend her important contribution to science.

> The benefits to humanity are far too great to pass them up for the selfish needs of a single individual, even if she cannot comprehend her important contribution to science.

It's remarkable that this is not a parody. Much (critical) has been written about this attitude, which led to the Tuskegee study and other atrocities. Again, what you are suggesting is criminal. I won't comment further.

I did the exact same thing, but tweeted about it* instead of saying it here.


I guess you’ve kinda said it here as well ;)

Thats gotta be some optical illusion thing.

When you skim headlines instead of reading them, your brain makes guesses at the words instead of actually reading each letter, as a speed hack.

It's also used as a crutch when your eyesight slowly degrades over the years.

Sometimes it leads to Freudian slips, other times, you just expect to read about people instead of worms.

I think you're right -- "Worms frozen" looks like "Wo…en" when you read the two words quickly. Your brian tedns to flil in the mdidle of wodrs baesd on the ousitde lteters.

If we can do this, hey, interstellar travel!

It’s a great time to be a nematode

seems like almost any time works if you're a nematode

These are the wormholes you're looking for.

First time I see the same news from two different sites trending on HN at the same time...

Isn't this the beginning of some horror body snatching movie?

Are we sure they're really worms? Better get ready to do the hot wire blood test on everyone on that site...

Am I the only one thinking of demolition man right now?

I'm more "Encino Man" here..

WTF is "siberiantimes.com". About page got nothing. Credible source? I'm thinking not so much. Why is this here?

Wow I bet those worms are so confused. Imagine when they showed them smart phones! Probably like that movie Encino man (when do we get Encino man 2?)

Dude, Where's My Mammoth?

Ah, the school summer holidays. Such an exciting time for HN comments.

Reminds me of the Eternal September...

Wow you guys really hate jokes :P

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