Nelson Hairston Jr., chair of Cornell’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, achieved the seemingly impossible concept of resurrection.
This field is known loosely as “resurrection ecology,” in which researchers study the eggs of such creatures as zooplankton – tiny, free-floating water animals – that get buried in lake sediments and can remain viable for decades or even centuries.
By hatching these eggs, Hairston and others can compare time-suspended hatchlings with their more contemporary counterparts to better understand how a species may have evolved in the meantime.
The researchers take sediment cores from lake floors to extract the eggs. The deeper the egg lies in the core, the older it is.
They then place the eggs in optimal hatching conditions, such as those found in spring in a temperate lake, and let nature take its course.
“We can resurrect them and discover what life was like in the past,” said Hairston.