Aulacomnium turgidum

Today’s entry was written by Taisha:

Widely reported a few months ago, researcher Dr. Catherine La Farge and personnel from her lab at the University of Alberta recently documented the revival of bryophytes that had been buried under glacial ice. Radiocarbon dating of the mosses showed that the plants had been frozen since just prior to the Little Ice Age, approximately 400 to 615 years ago.

Today’s photograph, provided by Dr. La Farge, shows Aulacomnium turgidum (or turgid aulacomnium moss) being revealed at the margin of the receding Teardrop Glacier in Sverdrup Pass on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, Canada. From seven subglacial specimens sampled, 11 cultures displayed regrowth in the lab. The four taxa most consistently generated were Aulacomnium turgidum, Distichium capillaceum, Encalypta procera, and Syntrichia ruralis. For more on this story, see the news article from the University of Alberta, or read the journal article in PNAS: La Farge, C, et al. 2013. Regeneration of Little Ice Age bryophytes emerging from polar glacier with implications of totipotency in extreme environments. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 110(24):9839.

Dr. La Farge and her research team attributed the ability to revitalize the moss specimens that were entombed in ice for 400+ years to totipotency and poikilohydry. Totipotency means that a cell contains the mechanisms and information to divide and potentially differentiate into all of the ultimate cells of the organism (for humans, the zygote is an example). In mosses, totipotency in some (if not all) of the cells in the individual plant is a common phenomenon. Poikilohydry, or the ability to be dessicated and easily revived without physiological damage, is a strategy some bryophytes exhibit to adapt to irregular water supplies in their environment, like the high Arctic. Poikilohydric bryophytes typically lack mechanisms that control the gain and loss of water and consequently water may move in and out of the plant rapidly (see: Proctor, MC and Z. Tuba. Poikilohydry and homoihydry: antithesis or spectrum of possibilities? New Phytologist. 156(3):327-349).

Bryophytes at Teardrop Glacier

8 responses to “Aulacomnium turgidum”

  1. Lynne Brookes

    This is really fascinating! Plant life/life in general is amazing. Thank you for posting.

  2. Bonnie

    “Turgid moss.” I love it!

  3. Connie Hoge

    Wow! Life on the edge- or under the edge…
    Photo not very remarkable until one understands it’s content. I wonder how much art is really like that? Do we consider art “great” if it stands alone, without connotation? Or is that the meaning of “abstract”? I love Taisha’s lessons, so much in so few words. Succinct.

  4. Michael Chusid

    I would think that a glacier (different than a snow pack) would have been in contact with rock, and that glacial movement would have scraped away vegetation.

  5. Daniel Mosquin

    Perhaps Taisha can clarify if “buried under” is intended to be “frozen within”.

  6. Taisha

    Indeed, the bryophytes were “entombed within” glacial ice, as opposed to written “buried within”.

  7. Equisetum

    Are all these species currently growing somewhere — i.e., has this discovery revived any species currently listed as “extinct?” Have they been examined below the species level yet –might someone get the chance to name a new subspecies?

  8. Daniel Mosquin

    Molly, I don’t believe so re: revival of anything extinct.

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