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30,000 Year Old Plant

February 22, 2012 by staff 

30,000 Year Old Plant, Ice-age flowers Russian scientists have grown flowering plants using seeds stored by squirrels 30,000 years ago and preserved by the Siberian permafrost, a new study shows.

The seeds of the herbaceous Silene stenophylla are by far the oldest plant tissue to have been brought back to life, according to lead researchers Svetlana Yashina and David Gilichinsky of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

The latest findings could be a landmark in research of ancient biological material and the bid to potentially revive other species, including some that are extinct.

The scientists highlight the importance of permafrost itself in the “search of an ancient genetic pool, that of pre-existing life, which hypothetically has long since vanished from the Earth’s surface”.

The previous record for viable regeneration of ancient flora was with 2000-year-old date palm seeds at the Masada fortress near the Dead Sea in Israel.

The latest success is older by a significant order of magnitude, with researchers saying radiocarbon dating has confirmed the tissue to be 31,800 years old, give or take 300 years.

“For the first time, we managed to recreate a plant with the help of fruits that are 32,000 years old,” says Yashina.

The study, which appears this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, described the discovery of 70 squirrel hibernation burrows along the bank of the lower Kolyma river, in Russia’s northeast Siberia, and bearing hundreds of thousands of seed samples from various plants.

All burrows were found at depths of 20-40 metres from the present day surface and located in layers containing bones of large mammals such as mammoth, woolly rhinoceros, bison, horse, deer, and other representatives of fauna from the Late Pleistocene Age.

The permafrost essentially acted as a giant freezer, and the squirrelled-away seeds and fruit resided in this closed world – undisturbed and unthawed, at an average of -7°C – for tens of thousands of years.

Scientists were able to grow new specimens from such old plant material in large part because the burrows were quickly covered with ice, and then remained “continuously frozen and never thawed,” in effect preventing any permafrost degradation.

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