Scientists Revive 32,000-Year-Old Plant From Siberian Permafrost

Flowering plants of Silene stenophylla

Flowering plants of Silene stenophylla. (Photo: S. Yashina et al, Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2012, Figure 3)

Many prehistoric secrets lie in the permafrost of the world's arctic regions. Whether its a well-preserved mammoth or ancient plants, scientists can learn a lot from these biological discoveries. In 2012, a Russian team regenerated a series of fertile, flowering Silene stenophylla plants from 32,000-year-old seed pods. This impressive accomplishment was detailed in a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences—an accomplishment which foreshadows other developments that could emerge from the permafrost.

The discovery of the prehistoric seed pods was part of the larger excavation of ancient ground squirrel hibernation burrows in ice deposits in Siberia. The squirrels' food supplies had been trapped and preserved in the burrows, providing a wealth of biological evidence. The fruit of the Silene stenophylla specifically date to about 32,000 years ago in the Pleistocene epoch. They presented a challenge for the researchers at the Russian Academy of Scientists. Previously, the oldest regenerated plant was a Judean date palm dating to about 2,000 years ago.

The Russian team first tried to use mature seeds from the fruit pods. However, these seeds could not generate a plant. The team then tried placental tissue from immature seeds. Using cloning technology, 36 plants were bred from the ancient material. While they looked like the modern Silene stenophylla which still grows in the area, once the plants flowered, the petals were spaced further apart than in the modern version. Interestingly, the ancient plants produced seeds which generated new plants 100% of the time—a better rate than the modern variety.

These 32,000-year-old plants might be the key to unlocking further secrets of the permafrost.

Scientists in Russia resurrected a 32,000-year-old plant from the Siberian permafrost.

Ancient Prehistoric PLant DNA from Permafrost

The Silene stenophylla plant fruiting. (Photo: S. Yashina et al, Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2012, Figure 2)

Using cloning technology and the placental tissue of immature seeds, the team raised 36 plants.

Fruit DNA Found Resurrects Ancient Plant

The immature fruit of Silene stenophylla which was discovered in the permafrost. (Photo: S. Yashina et al, Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2012, Figure 4)

The ancient plants were similar to the modern variety, with slightly larger and widely-spaced petals.

Russian Scientists Grow An Ancient Plant

Cloning the Silene stenophylla from the discovered fruit placenta cells. (Photo: S. Yashina et al, Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2012, Figure 5)

h/t: [Earthly Mission]

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Madeleine Muzdakis

Madeleine Muzdakis is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met and a historian of early modern Britain & the Atlantic world. She holds a BA in History and Mathematics from Brown University and an MA in European & Russian Studies from Yale University. Madeleine has worked in archives and museums for years with a particular focus on photography and arts education. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys hiking, film photography, and reading while cuddling with her cat Georgia.
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