A small Arctic flower called the narrow-leafed campion is the oldest prehistoric plant brought back to life so far. It died out 32,000 years ago, but scientists grew a new plant from a long-frozen fruit found buried in the Siberian tundra.
Russian scientists announced the feat in early 2012, a few years after the frozen flower fruit was dug from the burrow of the ancient Arctic ground squirrel that stashed it. According to The New York Times, the previous record for the oldest plant grown from ancient tissue involved a date palm sprouted from a 2,000-year-old seed found at the Masada fortress in Israel.
A team led by Svetlana Yashina and David Gilichinsky of the Russian Academy of Sciences research center excavated ancient squirrel burrows frozen at about 19 degrees Fahrenheit and buried 125 feet below the surface, under layers containing the bones of mammoths, woolly rhinos, and other creatures. Some storage chambers in the burrows held more than 600,000 seeds and fruits, the Times reported, many of which were from a species that closely resembles the modern narrow-leafed campion.
The researchers tried to get the seeds to sprout, according to U.K. newspaper The Guardian, but that didn’t work. Instead they took cells from part of the plant’s fruit, thawed them out, and grew them into whole plants. The 36 plants they ended up with looked a lot like the modern version, except the flower petals were narrower and more spread out. According to radiocarbon dating performed on seeds attached to the same fruit the team cloned, the cloned cells were 31,800 years old.
Researcher Stanislav Gubin told The Guardian that the study shows it’s possible for tissue to survive frozen in ice for tens of thousands of years. He said the successful regeneration means it might be possible even to bring Ice Age mammals back to life.
Uh, flowers are cool. But is the world ready to welcome back the woolly mammoth?