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Australia Earth Science

Australian Scientists Discover 'Oldest Living Thing On Earth' 172

Posted by timothy
from the sorry-dad's-television dept.
New submitter offsafely writes "Scientists in Australia have discovered the oldest living life-form to date: a small patch of Ancient Seagrass, dated through DNA sequencing at 200,000 years old." Says the linked article: "This is far older than the current known oldest species, a Tasmanian plant that is believed to be 43,000 years old." What I want to know is, How does it taste?
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Australian Scientists Discover 'Oldest Living Thing On Earth'

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 07, 2012 @12:53PM (#38955507)

    the seagrass has been able to reach such old age because it can reproduce asexually and generate clones of itself. Organisms that can only reproduce sexually are inevitably lost at each generation, he added.

    So actual news story is that Australian scientists have decided that a clone of an organism is the same organism, although they are not the same organism.

    On a less snarky note, the article says it's the oldest living species. Which is a completely different story.

  • by rodrigoandrade (713371) on Tuesday February 07, 2012 @12:53PM (#38955511)

    Just to be clear, the actual plant isn't nearly that old. The original plant that started the cloning process was 200,000 years old.

  • by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Tuesday February 07, 2012 @01:15PM (#38955861) Homepage Journal

    No, it's like saying you're 80,000 years old because a Neanderthal with the amazing ability to grow back both halves when cut up like a sea star/starfish has left you behind.

    But don't take the Telegraph article too seriously: they couldn't even get the species name correct. (There's an 'a' on the end that's missing.) Here's the journal article in PLoS ONE [plosone.org].

  • by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Tuesday February 07, 2012 @01:21PM (#38955963) Homepage Journal
    Transcription errors are inevitable in small quantities, but in general plant clones are considered one organism. Since we humans don't (except in severe obesity) generally grow by spreading around, it's hard for us to understand sometimes exactly what's going on here, but what happened is that the plant just kept putting down more roots and foliage, gradually covering a large area of the ocean floor. Then, chunks died off. It's not like it's some kind of sporing or budding process; except due to accident, the parts of a huge plant like this are always connected. Wikipedia's being unresponsive right now, but the largest trees and fungi in the world work the same way—and since their roots are buried way down underneath so much soil, we're not sure if they're still connected or not.
  • Re:Has a flavor (Score:5, Informative)

    by F34nor (321515) on Tuesday February 07, 2012 @01:32PM (#38956157)

    http://ctext.org/zhuangzi/tree-on-the-mountain [ctext.org]

    Zhuangzi was walking on a mountain, when he saw a great tree with huge branches and luxuriant foliage. A wood-cutter was resting by its side, but he would not touch it, and, when asked the reason, said, that it was of no use for anything, Zhuangzi then said to his disciples, 'This tree, because its wood is good for nothing, will succeed in living out its natural term of years.' Having left the mountain, the Master lodged in the house of an old friend, who was glad to see him, and ordered his waiting-lad to kill a goose and boil it. The lad said, 'One of our geese can cackle, and the other cannot - which of them shall I kill?' The host said, 'Kill the one that cannot cackle.'

    Next day, his disciples asked Zhuangzi, saying, 'Yesterday the tree on the mountain (you said) would live out its years because of the uselessness of its wood, and now our host's goose has died because of its want of power (to cackle) - which of these conditions, Master, would you prefer to be in?' Zhuangzi laughed and said, '(If I said that) I would prefer to be in a position between being fit to be useful and wanting that fitness, that would seem to be the right position, but it would not be so, for it would not put me beyond being involved in trouble; whereas one who takes his seat on the Dao and its Attributes, and there finds his ease and enjoyment, is not exposed to such a contingency. He is above the reach both of praise and of detraction; now he (mounts aloft) like a dragon, now he (keeps beneath) like a snake; he is transformed with the (changing) character of the time, and is not willing to addict himself to any one thing; now in a high position and now in a low, he is in harmony with all his surroundings; he enjoys himself at ease with the Author of all things; he treats things as things, and is not a thing to them: where is his liability to be involved in trouble? This was the method of Shen Nong and Huang-Di. As to those who occupy themselves with the qualities of things, and with the teaching and practice of the human relations, it is not so with them. Union brings on separation; success, overthrow; sharp corners, the use of the file; honour, critical remarks; active exertion, failure; wisdom, scheming; inferiority, being despised: where is the possibility of unchangeableness in any of these conditions? Remember this, my disciples. Let your abode be here - in the Dao and its Attributes.'

    My translation?

    "If you want to live to be 200,000 years old, don't be anyone's bitch."

  • Re:wow (Score:5, Informative)

    by Tsingi (870990) <graham.rickNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday February 07, 2012 @01:44PM (#38956403)
    Here's a tree that's 80,000 years old. Kind of conflicts with the 43,000 year number in TFA. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pando_(tree) [wikipedia.org]
  • by flyingsquid (813711) on Tuesday February 07, 2012 @02:38PM (#38957317)
    There's pretty much no way these colonies can be 200,000 years old. During the last ice age, 15,000 years ago, the sea level was about 400 feet lower. That means that during the Ice Age, these seagrass meadows would have been on dry land, and you'd have regular old grass, not seagrass. There were literally Neanderthals and wooly rhinoceros walking around on this terrain. I was curious how the authors could possibly have missed this; it turns out they didn't; the Australian news article just does a bad job of summarizing the research.

    From the PLOS article:

    The scenario of a km-range spread achieved exclusively through clonal growth requires that the clones reach a minimum age of about 12,500 years. Applying the same estimates to the genets shared between the two pairs of meadows, located 7 km apart between Formentera and Ibiza and 15 km apart around a cape in Formentera (Fig. 3), yields a minimum age estimate between 80,000 and 200,000 years, projecting the origin of the clones well into the late Pleistocene. Although there is no biologically compelling reason to exclude this possibility, we consider it to be an unlikely scenario because local sea level changes during the last ice age (from 80,000 to 10,000 years) would place these sampling locations on land (the sea was 100 metres below its present level).

    Anyway, it just drives home the point- if you really want to understand the issue, go back to the source material, not the media summary that was done on a tight deadline. It raises a question though- if seagrass really grows that slowly, how do you get these vast colonies? One possibility is storms. Since seagrasses are in nearshore environments, that means that storms can tear them up; currents can then pick up and move the plants, perhaps for miles. Every once in a while, some of those uprooted plants might luckily get transplanted into a hospitable habitat down current, and you can get a single colony rapidly spreading out over a huge area. Effectively, the plant could seed itself without actually using seeds.

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