Arctic plant revived 32,000 years later

Nickalas Tabbert

 A team of Russian scientists reported Monday that living plants have been generated from the fruit of an arctic flower that died 32,000 years ago.

Scientists excavating in northeastern Siberia found the fruit permanently frozen with an arctic ground squirrel, the New York Times said.

This would be the oldest plant ever grown from ancient tissue.  The present record is held by a date palm grown from a seed over 2,000 years old recovered from the ancient fortress of Masada in Israel.

Seeds and certain cells can last a long term under the right conditions, but biologists are likely to remain cautious until the claim is confirmed. 

The new claim is supported by a firm radiocarbon date, a test that often proves seeds are modern contaminants instead of plant tissue. 

The new report is by a team led by Svetlana Yashina and David Gilichinsky of the Russian Academy of Sciences research center near Moscow.  The report will appear in Tuesday's issue of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

The Russian researchers excavated ancient squirrel burrows exposed on the bank of the lower Kolyma River, an area once inhabited by mammoth and wooly rhinoceroses during the last ice age.  The burrows were sealed with windblown earth, buried under 125 feel of sediment and permanently frozen at minus 7 degrees Celsius after being excavated, the Times said.

Some of the storage chambers in the burrows contain more than 600,000 seeds and fruits, many from a species that most closely resembles the present narrow-leafed campion (Silene stenophylla).