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Plant blooms after 30,000 years in permafrost

A plant that last flowered when woolly mammoths roamed the plains is back in bloom.

Biologists have resurrected a 30,000-year-old plant, cultivating it from fruit tissue recovered from frozen sediment in Siberia. The plant is by far the oldest to be brought back from the dead: the previous record holder was a sacred lotus, dating back about 1200 years.

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 fossilised 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.

By applying growth hormones to the fruit tissue, Gilichinsky and his colleagues managed to kick-start cell division and ultimately produce a viable flowering plant.

Modern day S. stenophylla looks similar to the resurrected plant, but has larger seeds and fewer buds. Modern plants also grow roots more rapidly. Studying these and other differences will reveal how the plant has evolved since the last ice age.

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TAGGED: BIOLOGY, EARTH SCIENCES


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