Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Pleistocene plant

Like me, you may have seen this on the news last night (video here, scroll down), but the brief report left me wanting more details. And here they are:

The plant above has been grown from a seed buried by a Siberian ground squirrel 31,800 years ago, give or take 300 years. It is a previously unidentified species of Silene (other species include Silene antirrhina, Silene variegata, and Silene Vulgaris), commonly known as campion. The seed was recovered from a burrow found in permafrost at a depth of 65'-130'. A Russian research team, led by Svetlana Yashina and David Gilichinsky, investigated 70 fossil burrows on the banks of the Kolyma River. Because the sediments were firmly cemented together and often completely filled with ice that never melted, the burrows were fully isolated from the surface. “The squirrels dug the frozen ground to build their burrows...putting in hay first and then animal fur for a perfect storage chamber. It’s a natural cryobank,” says Stanislav Gubin, a co-author of the study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The plant, Silene stenophylla, was revived from the frozen cells using a technique called “clonal micropropagation,” which involved extracting "placental tissue" from immature seeds, germinating it in a special nutrient solution in petri dishes, and planting the resulting mature seeds. After a year of nurtured growth in a conventional pot under controlled light and temperature, they blossomed, bore fruit, and dropped seeds. The regeneration of the flower, which grew in the Pleistocene Era according to radiocarbon dating, proves that seeds remain viable in long-term cold storage. The previous record for reviving old plant tissue* used historic seeds, but this seed was prehistoric. Not only did woolly mammoths walk by this flower, they may have stopped for a snack.

*2,000-year-old date palm seeds from Israel.

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