DNA Time Travel – Species Discovered that Sleep for Millennia

Nature
has found a way send genetic information forward through time, and no,
it doesn’t involve Doctor Who finally getting with Rose. Tiny
crustaceans can bury their young in the Earth for centuries, and
scientists in the new and awesomely-named science of “resurrection
ecology” are using these sleeping samples to study evolution.

As far as bacterial spores are concerned, there seems to be no limit on how long they can remain dormant.

Raul Cano and Monica Boruki reported in the journal Science on the isolation of a viable strain of Bacillus sphaericus from an extinct bee trapped in 25-to-30 million year old amber.

Some
zooplankton (as the name suggests, tiny animal-like creatures the size
of plankton) lay eggs which lie dormant over inhospitable seasons,
evading undesirable predators or unsurvivable conditions.  Sometimes
these eggs get covered over and aren’t triggered at the right time –
but instead of going off (and producing an extremely unwelcome smell
when all you want is breakfast) these eggs can be reactivated if later
stirred to the surface.

This has enabled Professor Hairston and
colleagues to study samples sent forward from past times.  Because of
the zooplankton’s short lifespan genetic changes are easily
identifiable over decades, as species adapt to a changing environment –
for example, an increased tolerance to toxins which have now been
proven to kill earlier models.  So if there is an Intelligent Designer,
He apparently carefully sifts the mud at the bottom of lakes to make
extremely minor changes to every cell He finds.  Which isn’t much of a
hobby for someone with the power of creation.

“We
can resurrect them and discover what life was like in the past,” said
Hairston, who came to Cornell in 1985 and is a professor and chair of
Cornell’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.
“Paleo-ecologists study microfossils, but you can’t understand much
physiologically or behaviorally” with that approach.”

Hairston
and amigos have organized a Resurrection Ecology Conference for later
this year, but don’t send out the BatSignal just yet – there wont be an
army of extinct species issuing forth from the convention center.  The
field only applies to tiny egg-laying plankton so far; but with
advances in genetic engineering, who knows what they’ll be able to
study in the future.

Luke McKinney

Resurrection Ecology

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