Garden Club of Chester, New Jersey
Biologists have resurrected a 30,000-year-old plant, cultivating it from fruit seed tissue recovered from frozen sediment in Siberia. The plant is by far the oldest to be brought back from the dead. Previously, the two record holders were 1,200-year-old sacred lotus, Nelumbo nucifera, recovered in China and 2,000-year-old date palm from Israel.
The late David Gilichinsky from the Soil Cryology Laboratory in Moscow, Russia, and colleagues recovered the fruits of the Ice Age flowering plant, Silene stenophylla, from a fossilized squirrel burrow in frozen sediments near the Kolyma river in north-east Siberia. Radiocarbon dating of the fruit suggests the squirrel stashed it around 31,800 years ago, just before the ice rolled in. The burrows were located 125 feet below the present surface in layers containing bones of large mammals, such as mammoth, woolly rhinoceros, bison, horse and deer.
By applying growth hormones to the fruit and immature seed tissue, Gilichinsky and his colleagues managed to stimulate cell division and ultimately produce a flowering plant. Unfortunately, ripe seeds found in the same burrow did not sprout. The scientists believe that the cells didn't lose their ability to divide because of their high sugar level.
The ancient plant looks similar to the modern day S. stenophylla. However, the modern version has larger and more serrated petals and larger seeds. The resurrected plant also has female and male flowers.
Studying these differences will reveal how the plant has evolved since the last Ice Age.
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