NOT SCIENCE-FICTION: Ancient organisms reanimated from Minnesota Lake
Sample from bottom of lake revived after 700 years
It sounds like the plot of a science-fiction B-movie. Scientist trolling the bottom of a Minnesota lake discovers organisms lost there for over 700 years, and successfully bring them back to life. Only this time, it's not science-fiction, but science fact.
Known scientifically as Daphnia and nicknamed "water fleas," the creatures are as big as a grain of rice. Billions reside in lakes.
South Center Lake in Minnesota is in fact a charming 898-acre body of water located on the outskirts of the small town of Lindstrom, most famous for being known as "America's Little Sweden."
Scientists here have revived shrimp-like animals that have been buried at the bottom of the lake for more than 700 years. They may very well be the oldest animals ever resurrected.
"The time frame is pretty remarkable," David M. Post, an evolutionary ecologist at Yale University says.
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The most remarkable thing about the recent discovery is that the local evolution experienced a major jolt as brief as a century ago, as Europeans transformed the local American landscape.
Known scientifically as Daphnia and nicknamed "water fleas," the creatures are as big as a grain of rice. Billions reside in lakes. Each fall, some species produce eggs sealed in tough cases, falling to the bottom of lakes. The next spring many produce new water fleas. Many eggs get buried in sediment, failing to hatch.
Evolutionary ecologist Lawrence J. Weider, then working in Germany in the Nineties, figured out how to hatch the eggs. His first success came with eggs buried for decades in a German lake. Many of the revived animals were in such good shape they could reproduce in the laboratory.
Currently at the University of Oklahoma, Weider and his colleagues in 2009 set out to resurrect eggs from some lakes in Minnesota. The chemistry of those lakes has been carefully documented for decades, making it possible to see how changes in pollution levels affected the water fleas.
Weider and his colleagues took a boat out on the lakes. Through a hole, the scientists lowered a tube and pushed it about three feet into the sediment to gather water flea eggs a few decades old.
Returning to Oklahoma, researchers sifted the cases from the mud, and started resurrecting the animals. Only then did Weider get an estimate for the age of the sediment in South Center Lake from another lab.
"I said, 'Are you kidding me?'" said Dr. Weider.
The lab concluded that the bottom of the lake's sediment core was about 1,600 years old. The oldest eggs that Dr. Weider and his colleagues had successfully hatched were about 700 years old.
The oldest of the water fleas lived before Europeans colonized the United States, hereby giving researchers a previously unseen insight into the area's ancient ecology.
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