Studying a Seemingly Immortal Species
Most people barely notice lichens, but Dr. Anne Pringle, a mycologist at Harvard, believes they may help answer one of science’s greatest questions: Is immortality biologically possible?
For eight years, Dr. Pringle has been measuring, sketching and scrutinizing lichens, which belong to the genus Xanthoparmelia. She wants to know whether they deteriorate with the passage of time, leaving them more susceptible to death. Biologists call it senescence: the grim reality of decline with age. Are the lichens more likely to break apart as the years pass? Does their chemistry or bacterial composition change, leaving them more vulnerable to pathogens?