Scientists in Russia have grown plants from fruit stored away in permafrost by squirrels over 30,000 years ago.

The fruit was found in the banks of the Kolyma River in Siberia, a top site for people looking for mammoth bones.

The Institute of Cell Biophysics team raised plants of Silene stenophylla – of the campion family – from the fruit.

Writing in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), they note this is the oldest plant material by far to have been brought to life.

Prior to this, the record lay with date palm seeds stored for 2,000 years at Masada in Israel….

Sugar sweet

Back in the lab, near Moscow, the team’s attempts to germinate mature seeds failed.

Silene stenophylla Eventually they found success using elements of the fruit itself, which they refer to as “placental tissue” and propagated in laboratory dishes.

“This is by far the most extraordinary example of extreme longevity for material from higher plants,” commented Robin Probert, head of conservation and technology at the UK’s Millennium Seed Bank.

“I’m not surprised that it’s been possible to find living material as old as this, and this is exactly where we would go looking, in permafrost and these fossilised rodent burrows with their caches of seeds.

“But it is a surprise to me that they’re finding viable material from this placental tissue rather than mature seeds.”

The Russian team’s theory is that the tissue cells are full of sucrose that would have formed food for the growing plants.

Sugars are preservatives; they are even being researched as a way of keeping vaccines fresh in the hot climates of Africa without the need for refrigeration.

So it may be that the sugar-rich cells were able to survive in a potentially viable state for so long.

Silene stenophylla still grows on the Siberian tundra; and when the researchers compared modern-day plants against their resurrected cousins, they found subtle differences in the shape of petals and the sex of flowers, for reasons that are not evident.

Source: BBC News Read more

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