The frozen worms, known as nematodes (also called roundworms) were discovered in ancient permafrost in two areas of Russia’s frigid north by scientists from Moscow State University and Princeton University.
Researchers estimate them to be 32,000 and 42,000 years old. The period is commonly referred to as ice age. According to the scientists, they could possibly be the oldest known living organisms on Earth and the small creatures possibly would have shared the earth with some of the earliest humans.
One of the specimens was found in a soil sample collected from a ground squirrel burrow located around 100 feet underground, and other burrows nearby have been radiocarbon dated to be around 32,000 years old. A second viable nematode was found in a permafrost sample approximately 41,700 years old collected around 11 feet below the surface.
According to reports, both worms are believed to be females. The worms represent two known species: Panagrolaimus detritophagus and Plectus parvus.
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Worms after being recovered were kept in petri dishes at 20 degrees Celsius. They started showing signs of life, moving and eating after several weeks.
The recently published research in Doklady Biological Sciences suggests long-term stability of worms doesn’t seem to have altered. Worms might also hold some clues that could help scientists develop new breakthroughs in cryonics (the study of living things at extremely low temperatures).
This study seems to be the first to demonstrate nematode survival after an extreme length of time.