Plant out of the freezer after 30 000 years

Botany

Koen Es | 21/02/12 | Siberia, Russia
In Russia, scientists have succeeded in growing a flowering plant using seeds stored by squirrels 30,000 years ago and preserved by the Siberian permafrost!  The unripe seedpod of Silene stenophyla was found at a depth of 38 metres in the permafrost soil of Siberia. These findings could be a landmark in the research of ancient biological material and could pave the way for reviving other species, including some that are extinct! 
  
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.
 
"The experiment was successful thanks to the discovery of viable particles from the placenta of three fruits found intact by our colleagues in a squirrel burrow," sats Yashina.
 
"Preserved in eternal ice in a perfect state, the three fruits had not germinated and has therefore kept the placental tissue cells viable," she adds.
 
In their lab near Moscow, the scientists originally sought to grow plants from mature S. stenophylla seeds, but when that failed, they turned to the plant's placental tissue, the fruit structure to which seeds attach, to successfully grow regenerated whole plants in pots under controlled light and temperature.
The plant is not very different in appearance from the Silene stenophyla plants that still occurs in Siberia. It is an interesting object of study as it can demonstrate what happens to a plant species during 30,000 years of evloution. This discovery makes researchers dream about the revival of other species that may already be extinct.
 

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