IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis


31st July, 2023 Geography

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The scientific discovery of a worm that was frozen for an astonishing 46,000 years in the Siberian permafrost.


Discovery of the Ancient Worm

  • The worm was found frozen 46,000 years ago in the Siberian permafrost.
  • This period was a time when woolly mammoths, sabre-toothed tigers, and giant elks roamed the Earth.

Cryptobiosis: A Dormant Survival State

  • The worm survived in a state of cryptobiosis, a dormant condition where it can endure extreme conditions.
  • Organisms in cryptobiosis can survive without water or oxygen, withstand freezing temperatures, and high salinity.

"Halting Life" and Revival

  • The worm's metabolic rates decreased to an undetectable level during cryptobiosis.
  • Scientists revived the worm after thawing it, a major finding as other organisms revived from this state survived for decades, not millennia.

Discovery of a Novel Species: Panagrolaimus kolymaenis

  • Genetic analysis revealed that the worm belonged to a previously unknown species, named Panagrolaimus kolymaenis.
  • Researchers from Germany and Russia were involved in the study.

Shared Molecular Toolkit

  • kolymaenis and another organism, C. elegans, share a molecular toolkit allowing them to survive cryptobiosis.
  • Both produce a sugar called trehalose, potentially enabling them to endure freezing and dehydration.

Insights for Evolution and Conservation

  • Striking discovery of shared biochemical pathways despite significant evolutionary time apart.
  • Studying these organisms may inform conservation biology efforts and help protect other species in extreme conditions.

Potential for Future Research

  • Insights gained from the worm's survival may contribute to conservation efforts in the face of changing environments.
  • Researchers see the study as a valuable source for actionable insights in protecting species today.

About Siberian Permafrost

  • Permafrost refers to permanently frozen ground that remains below 0°C (32°F) for at least two consecutive years.
  • Siberian permafrost covers vast regions in northern Russia, spanning across Siberia's tundra and forested areas.

Extent and Environmental Significance

  • Siberian permafrost covers approximately 65% of Russia's land area, making it one of the largest permafrost regions in the world.
  • The permafrost plays a crucial role in shaping the region's ecosystem, hydrology, and climate.

Permafrost Formation and Characteristics

  • Permafrost forms when the ground temperature remains consistently below freezing, causing soil and rocks to freeze.
  • It can reach depths of hundreds of meters, creating a frozen subsurface layer.

Active Layer and Seasonal Thaw

  • The active layer is the topmost portion of permafrost that thaws during the summer and refreezes during winter.
  • The active layer's thickness can vary depending on factors such as temperature, vegetation cover, and snow accumulation.

Environmental Challenges

  • Climate Change Impact: Rising global temperatures are causing permafrost thaw, leading to numerous environmental challenges.
  • Methane Release: As permafrost thaws, organic matter decomposes, releasing methane—a potent greenhouse gas—into the atmosphere.
  • Infrastructure Damage: Thawing permafrost can destabilize the ground, leading to damage to buildings, roads, and pipelines.

Methane Feedback Loop

  • Permafrost thaw contributes to a potential positive feedback loop—more thaw releases more methane, which further accelerates warming.
  • This feedback loop can intensify climate change and create challenges for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.

Ancient Discoveries in Permafrost

  • The permafrost acts as a natural freezer, preserving ancient remains and organisms for thousands or even millions of years.
  • Scientists have discovered well-preserved remains of mammoths, ancient plants, and now, the revived ancient worm.

Scientific Research and Insights

  • Researchers study the permafrost to understand past climates, ecological changes, and potential future scenarios.
  • Permafrost research provides valuable data for climate modeling, predicting climate change impacts, and understanding biodiversity.

Challenges in Permafrost Study

  • Permafrost research is logistically challenging due to its remote and harsh environments.
  • Thawing permafrost can make it difficult to access certain areas, hindering research efforts.

Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies

  • Climate change mitigation efforts focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions to limit permafrost thaw.
  • Adaptation strategies involve designing infrastructure and land use practices to account for permafrost thaw risks.


Q) Explain the phenomenon of cryptobiosis and its significance in the context of reviving a worm frozen for 46,000 years in Siberian permafrost. (150 words)