Well perhaps we should score another victory for the Mediterranean diet. Seems it really is the key to health and longevity. As in, serious longevity.
Researchers have discovered what they believe is the oldest living thing on the planet -- and yup, it's in the Mediterranean. At the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea to be exact.
Officially it's called Posidonia oceanic, but basically it's really long seagrass. And it blankets roughly 2,000 miles of sea floor from Spain to Cyprus. Certain individual plants are believed to be around 200,000 years old. Most are right around 100,000 years. The young ones. They're unpredictable and rebellious.
The long, lush, green meadows of the stuff go on and on and look like an underwater, technicolor prairie.
The plants were tested by a team of Australian and European scientists who sequenced DNA samples to determine the age of the seagrass. Even those which are "only" 100,000 years old are still more than double the age of the what was previously thought to be the oldest living thing, a Tasmanian plant which is around 46,000 years old.
Admittedly the discovery of seagrass, of all things, as the oldest living thing on earth may seem a bit of a letdown. A bear for instance -- a 100,00-year-old bear -- would have captured the imagination much more forcefully. But it's remarkably impressive if you think about all that seaweed and seagrass that wash-up in tangled bunches on every beach across the planet. Quitters.
So why is it that Posidonia oceanic has been able to join the Century Club one-thousand times and those other sea plants can't? Researchers point to a couple of factors. The plants reproduce asexually, they can clonethemselves and they live in an area without any natural predators. Also they don't smoke and substitute olive oil for butter.
Researcher Sophia Arnaud-Haon told LiveScience.com that "Clonal organisms have this extraordinary capacity that when a 'perfect' genome emerges, it can be transmitted through generations without being altered, and has potentially no end."
Their research, which appears in the journal PLos ONE, does caution 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.
So as impressive a run as these endless patches of seagrass have had, if these two patterns continue one of the study's lead researchers warns "the outlook for this species is very bad."