Pretty Pleistocene Flower
The Pleistocene is the epoch from 2.6 million to 12,000 years ago that spans the world's recent period of repeated glaciation. Not much has survived from that era except as fossils until now. Fruit seeds stored away by squirrels more than 30,000 years ago and found in Siberian permafrost have been regenerated into full flowering plants by scientists in Russia, a new study has revealed. The seeds of the herbaceous Silene stenophylla are far and away the oldest plant tissue to have been brought back to life, according to lead cryologists Svetlana Yashina and David Gilichinsky of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Some of the plants that were living in the Pleistocene Age (Ice Age) included: Grasses, conifer trees, mosses, flowering plants and lichens. Many have survived to the present era in one form or another. Now there is an original flower from that time long ago.
Whole, fertile plants of Silene stenophylla Ledeb. (Caryophyllaceae) have been uniquely regenerated from immature fruit tissue of Late Pleistocene age using in vitro tissue culture and clonal micropropagation. The fruits were excavated in northeastern Siberia from fossil squirrel burrows buried at a depth of about 120 feet in undisturbed and never thawed Late Pleistocene permafrost sediments with a temperature of −7 °C.
The experiment proves that permafrost serves as a natural depository for ancient life forms, said the Russian researchers, who published their findings in Tuesday's issue of "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" of the United States.
The previous official record for viable regeneration of ancient flora was with 2,000-year-old date palm seeds at the Masada fortress near the Dead Sea in Israel.
Arctic lupines, wild perennial plants in North America, were grown from seeds in a lemming burrow believed to be 10,000 years old and found in the mid-20th century by a gold miner in the Yukon.
The latest success is older by a significant order of magnitude, with researchers saying radiocarbon dating has confirmed the tissue to be 31,800 years old, give or take 300 years.
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault in the northernmost reaches of Norway, an ultra-high security, ultra-low temperature bank contains the seeds of every plant that humans eat — more than two million of them. The current Pleistocene flower experiment shows that keeping seed at such low temperatures will allow viable regeneration or propagation in the event of an emergency or catastrophe.
For further information: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/02/17/1118386109.abstract or http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-02-21/scientists-regenerate-ice-age-flower/3842674 or http://news.discovery.com/earth/pleistocene-plant-blooms-again-120221.html#mkcpgn=rssnws1
Photo: Russian Academy of Science