Scientists have regenerated a flowering plant from the Pleistocene Age (30,000 years ago) – a time before the end of the last Ice Age, before any form of agriculture and before humans had even invented writing.
While the plant itself is not actually that old, scientists have regenerated it from frozen cells, found underneath 125 feet of permafrost in northeastern Siberia.
According to ABC News, with the help of some “clonal micropropagation”, scientists cultivated the plant in their laboratory from seeds and leaves which were most probably collected by a age-old species of squirrel.
Stanislav Gubin, one of the authors of the study said: “The squirrels dug the frozen ground to build their burrows, which are about the size of a soccer ball, putting in hay first and then animal fur for a perfect storage chamber. It’s a natural cryobank.”
Radiocarbon dating says that the plant is approximately 31,800 years old and is of the species Silene stenophylla. It took a year of loving care, planted in a normal plant pot to generate this beautiful flowering plant and it has now blossomed, has borne fruit and dropped seeds – and continued life as though there was no interruption.
According to Svetlana Yashina, part of the team at the Institute of Physicochemical and Biological Problems in Soil Science, Russian Academy of Sciences: “The first generation cultivated from seeds obtained from regenerated plants progressed through all developmental stages and had the same morphological features as parent plant. We consider it essential to continue permafrost studies in search of an ancient genetic pool, that of pre-existing life, which hypothetically has long since vanished from the earth’s surface.”
Scientists say that the world’s permafrost, which covers about 20 percent of the plant’s surface, can be considered a vast time capsule, preserving ancient life which can be revived and give an insight into the evolution of life on Earth.