How can things like worms and bacteria still be alive after being frozen in ice for thousands of years?

21 views

How can things like worms and bacteria still be alive after being frozen in ice for thousands of years?

In: 9

Large stuff like humans can’t be thawed because it can’t all be done at once, so while parts of us are thawed and parts aren’t, ice crystals form in the tissues and that destroys both the tissues and the blood vessels.

Small things like single cell bacteria don’t have that problem. There are also things like turtles and toads that have special adaptations that prevent the ice crystals forming throughout their tissues and blood. Glucose pumped throughout the body in the bloodstream helps prevent damage to cells, but the mechanisms are still being studied. Frogs can’t survive too low of temperatures, and they have to go through a healing process.

Some species of worms can survive a lot of damage, famously being able to be cut up and regrow the pieces into full whole worms. That ability helps with surviving freezing, as does their small size.

Most of the answer is that they aren’t thawed on a kitchen counter. They’re very carefully removed from ice and brought back to living temperatures, in a way that minimizes damage.

I heard a story about how a custom-made microwave emitter was used before the invention of microwave ovens for the scientific purpose of thawing out frozen gerbils, who came back to life from the process. They got so good at warming frozen gerbils from cryo, that they reached a basically 100% success rate.
The story said the reason it doesn’t work on humans is because of our large size. There simply isn’t enough time to thaw us out because we have to get more oxygen moving inside of us, and current technology can’t do it.
Otherwise, so long as not too many cells are punctured by the formation of ice crystals, some animals can do it. Chemical reactions slow to stand-still, and their state doesn’t change until heat arrives much later.