Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Lazarus, Phoenix and Immortal

Well, it certainly isn't something that happens all the time - but just occasionally a genuine miracle in the natural world occurs. Here's three of my favourites:

The critically endangered La Palma Giant Lizard (Gallotia auaritae) was thought to have been extinct for over 500 years, until it was rediscovered in 2007.

A researcher at the Instituto de Investigaci√≥n en Recursos Cineg√©ticos (IREC), Luis Enrique Minguez, happened to take this photograph whilst out hiking, and was delighted when the research team finally worked out what it was.

In a twist of irony IREC are a Spanish research institution studying the effect of human hunting on biodiversity... Which is one of the presumed causes of the La Palma extinction. Two other "presumed extinct" species were also rediscovered on the Canary Islands, the El Hierro Giant Lizard (1974) and La Gomera Giant Lizards (1996).

Now, the Turritopsis Nutricula isn't strictly a "Lazarus" species, but it does deserve some attention all the same. As it is nicknamed "The Immortal Jellyfish", that tells you mostly why this particular animal is so extraordinary...

It quite literally defies all laws of nature and is the only animal (so far) to carry of the neat trick of being genuinely immortal, by means of a neat trick called "transdifferentiation".

Most jellies die after breeding, but when Nutricula gets old it returns to polyp state - it can breed as an adult jelly, or divide into a collection of polyps. This means it gets to cheat death and start all over again!

Scientific studies show that 100% of the jellies have this ability for perpetual biological immortality - but sadly this doesn't save them from being a yummy snack for fish...

Ah well, win some, lose some.

My final entry is the Silene stenophylla. Whilst Narrow-Leafed Campions aren't exactly rare, this particular example is pretty unusual...

This particular flower was grown when a team of research scientists dug up some fruit that had been buried by a squirrel or gopher in the banks of the Kolyma River, Siberia. What had happened was the squirrel’s burrow had frozen... then fossilised in the permafrost. Yes - by the time they were found and defrosted by scientists, the fruits had been buried to a depth of 38 metres and frozen for around 31,800 years.

At subzero temperatures, their chemical reactions slowed to a crawl: Extreme age was no longer a problem. The team carefully nurtured the results and grew these remarkable regenerated plants - they rose like wintry Phoenixes from the Russian ice to surpass all past record-holders for plants grown from ancient seeds... By about thirty thousand years!

Read more HERE.

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