Russian scientists say they've grown a flowering plant from material extracted from seeds deposited in the Siberian permafrost 30,000 years ago.
The work of the scientists at the Institute of Cell Biophysics in Russia is creating a worldwide buzz after being published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States.
Previously, the oldest known seed material that has been able to produce life was from about 2,000 years ago, science writer Ed Yong reports in a Discover magazine blog giving details of the work of the Russian breakthrough.
The plants, named silene stenophylla, are from a time when wooly mammoths and saber-tooth cats lived in Siberia. Their 300-century path to life began when squirrels brought the fruit of the plant and the immature seeds the fruit contained into a riverbank burrow. As the climate cooled, the burrow was covered with layers of ice and the seeds were preserved by temperatures of minus-7 degrees Celsius (19.4 degrees Fahrenheit), according to Yong's report.
The immature seeds were extracted from the burrow along the banks of the Kolyma River more than five years ago.
The Russian scientists were able to take what is called "placenta tissue" from the immature seeds, grow that tissue into mature seeds in a lab environment, and then plant those seeds in normal soil and watch them grow into the blossoming plants, according to a report from the Russian news agency RIA Novosti.
Those plants have now produced their own seeds and fruits, establishing a whole new generation of the ancient plant, the reports said.
The ancient plants differ only slightly from their modern descendants in the shape of their petals and sex of the flowers, the RIA Novosti report said.
The news of the ancient plants brought to life immediately brought speculation about whether other life forms might be resurrected from the permafrost, which James Haile, a scientist at Murdoch University in Australia, said earlier this year was "a giant molecular freezer" preserving the DNA of a thriving Pleistocene ecosystem.
"Siberia, Alaska and the Yukon could act as one massive freezer, where ancient life has been stored, waiting to greet the world again," Yong wrote on his blog.
"The success of the Russian scientists may open a door to a whole new area of experiments in reviving extinct plants buried under layers of soil, especially in the Arctic zone, for thousands of years," the RIA Novosti article said.
The new findings may give hope to a team of Russian, Japanese and American scientists who reported a year ago that within six years they hope to produce baby mammoth from DNA extracted from a Pleistocene mammoth carcass.