Patch of Seagrass is World’s Oldest Living Organism
A swathe of seagrass in the Mediterranean could be the oldest known living thing on Earth. Carlos Duarte of the University of Western Australia in Perth sequenced the DNA of Posidonia oceanica at 40 sites spanning 3500 kilometres of seafloor, from Spain to Cyprus. One patch off the island of Formentera was identical over 15 kilometres of coastline.
Like all seagrasses, Posidonia oceanica reproduces by cloning, so meadows spanning many kilometres are genetically identical and considered one organism. Given the plant’s annual growth rate the team calculated that the Formentera meadow must be between 80,000 and 200,000 years old, making it the oldest living organism on Earth. It trumps a Tasmanian seagrass, Lomatia tasmanica, believed to be 43,600 years old. Despite its historical robustness, Duarte says the patch of P. oceanica is now threatened by climate change. The Mediterranean is warming three times faster than the world average, and each year P. oceanica meadows decline by around 5 per cent.