Científicos reviven un musgo congelado hace 400 años

Se han encontrado musgos congelados bajo el glaciar Teardrop (Canadá) desde la Edad de Hielo (1550-1850), los científicos han sido capaces de volver a hacerlos crecer cultivándolos in vitro. Esta capacidad regenerativa que podrían ser fundamental para colonizar ambientes extremos – incluso en el espacio.

Durante la Pequeña Edad de Hielo, entre los siglos 16 y 19, los enormes glaciares penetraron y cubrieron grandes regiones en el hemisferio norte. Estos glaciares se han ido retirando lentamente a lo largo del siglo 20, acompañados de la considerable tasa de deshielo desde 2004.

El retroceso de los glaciares está revelando comunidades vegetales muy bien conservadas, según informa Catherine La Farge, botánica de briófitos de la Universidad de Alberta. “Es algo así como una manta retirada hacia atrás, lo que permite ver lo que fue la Pequeña era de Edad de Hielo.

Los briofitos son plantas no vasculares, como los musgos, o las hepáticas, que no producen flores o semillas, sino que se reproducen asexualmente mediante esporas. Además, pueden experimentar un crecimiento clonal y producir una nueva planta a partir de tejido vegetativo fragmentado de la planta primaria. Aunque no son la fuente de alimento preferido para los herbívoros, siguen siendo una parte importante del ecosistema polar, proporcionando alojamiento para la micro-flora y fauna. Un ejemplo de ello son las cianobacterias y hongos que utilizan el musgo como hábitat, mientras que las semillas de plantas vasculares caen en el lecho de los musgos pudiendo germinar usando la humedad alojada allí.

Los investigaciones señalan que estos briofitos no son las plantas más antiguas que pueden regenerarse – siendo esta la especie Silene stenophylla de hace 32,000 años-, sin embargo, S. rebrote stenophylla fue mucho más complicado, requirío a los científicos extraer tejido de la placenta de las semillas, clonando cuidadosamente este tejido para hacerlo crecer en medios especializados, ricos en nutrientes.

La Farge espera que el trabajo estimule el interés por los briófitos, algo poco usual en los estudios de los botánicos. “Creo que el sistema biológico de las briofitas en realidad no se ha entendido bien“, dice. Pero a partir de su estudio y otros, parece que los briófitos son capaces de aletargarse durante la desecación y revivir cuando las condiciones mejoran. Las plantas con este poder de regeneración se deben en parte a la capacidad de sus células para desdiferenciarse (pierden su función especializada) y pueden volver a un estado de células madre, lo que les permite luego convertirse en cualquier tipo de célula de la planta.

Los resultados del estudio sugieren que los paisajes expuestos al retirarse el hielo ya no deberían ser considerados como estériles para las plantas terrestres. Los briofitos probablemente juegan un papel importante en la colonización y conservación de los ecosistemas polares, según los investigadores en su estudio.

Los científicos han llevado ya musgo al espacio para ver cómo crece en un ambiente de micro-gravedad. “Tal vez los astronautas quieren llevar briofitos a otros planetas para ver si crecen y ver cómo se podría modificar paisajes extraterrestres“, según La Farge.

Fuente: io9.com, pnas.org y Ardea Iniciativas y Estudios Ambientales
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