A plant said to be 30,000 years old has been brought to life in Russia. A team resurrected a fruit from a rodent burrow in Siberian permafrost, getting it to grow into a whole plant that produces viable seeds. This is now the oldest age claim, by an order of magnitude, for plant material made to live again. Other scientists are startled that plant material could remain viable for so long, since cells have to repair their DNA continually.
The story was reported by the BBC News, PhysOrg, New Scientist and Live Science on February 20. The Russian team was unable to get seeds found in the burrow to sprout, but using growth hormones, coaxed “placental tissue” from a fruit to grow into an entire plant with flowers and seed-bearing fruit. The plant, Silene stenophylla, still grows in the region today. Scientists noted only slight differences from modern plants and one thought to be in a frozen state of hibernation for 28,000 to 32,000 years, from carbon dating.
The articles disagreed on whether the previous record-holder was a 1,300 year old lotus, or palm seeds from Masada prior to its destruction in 70 A.D. Reviving an organism from permafrost raises the possibility of resurrecting other plant species, and maybe even DNA from animals. Live Science asked a UCLA biologist about it. “Most plant seeds die within a few years, she said. But a few hearty species, including the 1,300-year-old lotus and S. stenophylla have built-in mechanisms that either preserve or repair the plants’ DNA.” Maybe geneticists could learn the plant’s tricks to enhance the longevity of human DNA, some think.
In a related story, Live Science reported on January 18 that archaeologists are reconstructing a Biblical garden using pollen grains found at Ramat Rahel, a hill south of Jerusalem. “Their reconstruction, which relied on analyses of excavated pollen, reveals a paradise of exotic plants,” the article said. Visitors to the palace garden would have been treated to plants such as willow, poplar, “myrtle and water lilies; native fruit trees, including grape vine, common fig and olive; and imported citron, Persian walnut, cedar of Lebanon and birch trees.” Many of these had to be imported from distant regions and would have required irrigation systems to maintain. The garden is dated to the Persian period, 5th to 6th centuries BC (2,500 years ago)….
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