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Scientists revived an ancient plant from seeds that were 32,000 years old

Jess Hardiman

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Scientists revived an ancient plant from seeds that were 32,000 years old

Featured Image Credit: REUTERS/Alamy Stock Photo

Scientists once managed to revive an ancient plant using seeds that were thousands of years old, having discovered them buried deep beneath permafrost in Siberia.

Back in 2012, the team of Russian researchers broke new ground when they regenerated a series of Silene stenophylla plants from 32,000-year-old seed pods, sharing their achievement in a paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The seeds were found in Siberia surrounded by layers that included mammoth, bison and woolly rhinoceros bones, having been buried by a squirrel near the Kolyma River during the Ice Age.

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The seeds were found beneath permafrost in Siberia. Credit: S. Yashina et al
The seeds were found beneath permafrost in Siberia. Credit: S. Yashina et al

The age of the batch of mature and immature seeds was later confirmed by radiocarbon dating.

Despite being covered in ice 124ft below the permafrost, the team were able to regenerate the Silene stenophylla – a plant with white flowers native to the province – by extracting the tissue and germinating it in glass vials.

“Late Pleistocene plant tissue of S. stenophylla, naturally preserved in permafrost, can be regenerated using tissue culture and micropropagation to form healthy sexually reproducing plants,” the study said.

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Their feat marked a new record, with the oldest regenerated plant previously being a Judean date palm dating to about 2,000 years ago.

In the study, the team described the long-term conservation of viable biological material an ‘important scientific challenge’.

The plants were regrown in glass vials. Credit: S. Yashina et al
The plants were regrown in glass vials. Credit: S. Yashina et al

They also said the natural cryopreservation of plant tissue over many thousands of years demonstrated ‘a role for permafrost as a depository for an ancient gene pool, i.e., preexisting life, which hypothetically has long since vanished from the earth's surface, a potential source of ancient germplasm, and a laboratory for the study of rates of microevolution’.

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In 2020, Austrian scientists also launched a fresh investigation to try and determine how the Arctic plant could be brought back to life after so long.

Professor Margit Laimer, a plant biotechnologist at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna, said at the time that she and her colleagues were able to delve deeper into the mystery after permafrost soil in Russia started to defrost.

She added that the team hoped to see if there were changes in plant genes that could adapt to extreme conditions – research that could prove crucial.

"I think mankind needs to be thankful for every piece of knowledge that we are able to create to protect our croplands,” Laimer said.

Topics: News, Science, World News

Jess Hardiman
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