Neptune Grass – The Oldest Living Thing on Earth

What is the oldest living thing on the planet?  My first guess would have been the giant sequoia, which can grow to be several hundred feet tall and live to be several thousand years old.  It turns out that the giant sequoia are relative youngsters in the grand scheme of things. Recently, a Tasmanian shrub, Lomatia tasmanica, was found to be 43,600 years old.  Now a group of scientists have sequenced the DNA of posidonia oceanica, known as Neptune grass, a variety of sea grass that covers the ocean floor from Spain to Cyprus, and have found plants that apparently are 200,000 years old.

The bad news is that the research, which appears in the journal PLos ONE, cautions that rising water temperatures and coastal construction projects have slowed the seagrass’ growth and it’s dying out at a rate faster than it’s growing.  The study warns that if trends continue “the outlook for this species is very bad.”

This is the oldest living thing on the planet

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6 Responses to Neptune Grass – The Oldest Living Thing on Earth

  1. I would have thought some sort of algae or fiddlehead ferns…

  2. Phil says:

    The oldest, Bacteria or microbes, or are they the same?

  3. Rick Spilman says:

    What gets tricky here is defining what is meant by oldest. The sea grass is technically a clone of itself. So, as one leaf of grass dies it is replaced by another with exactly the same genetic material. On this basis scientists can say that a given plant is 200,000 years old because the DNA hasn’t changed in that period.

  4. Steven Toby says:

    Surely, the Sequoia does not really grow as tall as 1,000 feet? If it did, it would have to be marked on aviation charts. Also, there’s a difference between an individual creature’s age and the amount of time a species has been attested in the fossil record. Rick’s original post didn’t make it so clear which he meant. Individual Sequoia trees certainly live for centuries — I’m not sure about millennia — as is attested by counting the rings after they are cut down. How do you establish the age of a shrub or sea grass?

  5. Rick Spilman says:

    Steven, thanks for pointing out the sloppy editing. It should have been several hundred feet tall, not several thousand. The oldest sequoia is 3,500 years old but the tallest is only 310 feet tall.

  6. Miss Cellany says:

    Well sure but then there are probably hundreds of other species that clone themselves and whose DNA hasn’t changed for 200,000 years or more. I heard that yew trees (which can lives 1000s of years) when they die can regrow from their own rotten stumps so are actually immortal.