February 21st, 2012
11:34 AM ET

Life resurrected from prehistoric seeds

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.

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Filed under: Russia • Science
soundoff (295 Responses)

    Jurassic Park 4!

    February 21, 2012 at 11:44 am | Report abuse |
    • "God" doesn't exist.

      Jurassic Park 5 I think

      February 21, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jj

    This is so cool!!! Jurassic weed is next

    February 21, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Now *that's* funny, Jj!

      February 21, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
  3. smartaz

    I need some prehistoric rolling papers.

    February 21, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Pete

    I wonder if anyone has complete DNA of an Indricotherium, a nearly 20-foot tall rhinoceros like creature with a long giraffe like neck.

    February 21, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • js

      I do. Look on eBay.

      February 21, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bubba

      You'd still need to implant it in something that had about the same gestational period, and since we started cloning cats and realized a cloned orange cat doesn't always come out orange, the mother may have a huge genetic impact.

      February 21, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Orchid333

    WOW. Incredible! Very cool!

    February 21, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Kindasorta

    Looks like Jasmine. I wonder if it has a strong scent?

    February 21, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
  7. mizh

    Really cool article. Very interesting too!

    February 21, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
  8. PeterD

    Prehistoric my Assh. You will find these Tagari Flowers in Western India Gujarat.all monsoon.

    February 21, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • jim

      from the article ... "The ancient plants differ only slightly from their modern descendants "

      it's unlikely you could tell from a photo on the internet. i suggest you stick to facts in the future. you won't look quite as stupid if you stick to facts

      February 21, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
  9. J R Brown

    This is interesting but definitely in the realm of "why bother...?"

    February 21, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • J.C.

      Yeah, don't these dumb scientists know that Idol is on?

      February 21, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • D

      Wow, so understanding the world doesn't strike you as mildly important? What if someone discovered super tiny things called germs and viruses and then said, "meh, they're so small, why bother?"

      February 21, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bubba

      Humans are curious. We want to know what's inside every rock, on top of every mountain, and at the bottom of the deepest ocean. We want to understand the sun and the moon, name all the stars, and chase the deer all day to see where they go at night. We want to understand the Universe, decipher the Earth's rocks, and listen to a woman's heart. We never stop, never give up and we're never satisfied. I guess it's different on your planet?

      February 21, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Andy

      Many undiscovered plants may yet posses the ingredients needed to cure some form of disease. Maybe a plant discovered by finding an ancient seed could provide a cure for cancer or some other disease.

      I for one am glad that scientists do not follow your philosophy of "why bother".

      February 21, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
  10. J.C.

    In the forgotten frozen grave of a diseased victim, the smallpox virus patiently waits to spring forth and rip through humanity once again.

    February 21, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Aren't >you< a ray of sunshine...lol

      February 21, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bubba

      There is a row of frozen graves cut into permafrost in Alaska or Canada somewhere which contain victims of the 1918 Flu epidemic. These are known and watched, and could be cremated if necessary. But there have to be others, unmarked and flash-frozen, just waiting for a hot wave or slow climate change.

      February 21, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
  11. john

    They should bring back the velociraptor to balance out the exploding human population.

    February 21, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Johnibn

      OK, you're first on the menu

      February 21, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jillicentix

      Good idea. I wonder if velociraptor meat tastes like chicken...

      February 21, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bubba

      I'm pretty sure I cold take a velociraptor with a machete or pitchfork, although I'd get a boar spear if I could. Two guys like me could back one into a corner and kill it pretty easily. In packs, we'd have to gun them down, but that would be simple. Jill and I can set up a Bubba's Georgia Fried Velociraptor stand and make millions. "It's finger-counting good!"

      February 21, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • yOyO

      @Jilli, that's about right. It would end up on some fancy menu on Michigan Ave

      February 21, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Vic

    Beautiful. Better than the GMO's we now shove down our throats.

    February 21, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
  13. john

    There is probably a deadly virus frozen that is about to be released that will wipe out a major chunk of the human population.

    February 21, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • jim

      why do you suppose the "deadly virus" didn't manage to wipe us out before? perhaps it's not as deadly as you think. perhaps you should stick to facts in the future.

      February 21, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • len

      Doubt it. Our bodies are probably immune to whatever 'deadly' virus it there, mostly due to the special magic known as 'evolution'. Pick up a kids science book, you may learn something -_-

      February 21, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • WordGirl

      They don't call it the "Theory" of Evolution for nothing. Gotta love science books...teaching pure speculation to the masses.

      February 21, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sean

      @ WordGirl
      I suggest looking up the scientific definition of theory before posting any other comments.

      February 21, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Josh

      Jim, because humans weren't around (yet) the last time the "deadly virus" was active.

      Though, evolution would not have bothered to "make" a virus that attacked a species that didn't exist yet.

      February 21, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • D

      WordGirl, look up the word "theory" and you'll see how you're misusing it. A theory is not "speculation". A "hypothesis" is more of what you are thinking of.

      February 21, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bubba

      Like I said, there are frozen graves of smallpox and 1918 flu victims all over Alaska and Canada, just waiting to be dug up and thawed. 1918 is actually scarier than Black Death or smallpox because we don't have a shot for it.

      February 21, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bubba

      "They don't call it the "Theory" of Evolution for nothing. " Honey, the capital T is what you are missing. A Theory is regarded as proven, while a theory is still being worked out. They used to call 'em Grand Theories. Gravity is a Theory, and you can prove it by dropping something. Evolution is a proven fact, and we see animals evolve all the time(white moths turning black, etc). Human evolution is still incomplete since we don't have a direct chain of descent from lower to higher the way we do with horses, for example.

      February 21, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • coffegirl

      Sean, Theory is a hypothesis in Economics...

      February 21, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sean

      That would be relevant if we were discussing economics. Come on you two.. not exactly breaking the glass ceiling here.

      February 21, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • yOyO

      @wordgirl... I think you're confusing science with religion. "Gotta love RELIGIOUS books...teaching pure speculation to the masses." or you could also say "outright lying to the masses to manipulate them into war for profit"

      February 21, 2012 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • kayray

      @wordgirl, I knew I wouldn't have to wait before coming upon some comment by a biblethumper that just can't accept that evolution happened. Hey, ever thought maybe god made it happen? I'll bet you still think the world is only 6,000 years old too.

      February 22, 2012 at 9:01 am | Report abuse |
  14. Igor

    wait for prehistoric marijuana

    February 21, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bubba

      They'll find a Stone Age bong marked BammBamm and recover seeds from the bowl . . .

      February 21, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
  15. JW Anderson

    Is anyone stopping to ask if this should be done, or what the consequences of doing this sort of work are? Simply because we CAN do something doesn't mean we SHOULD do it. I could envision several potentially catastrophic consequences. We have plenty of examples of the damage introducing exotics into existing ecosystems cause.

    February 21, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Igor

      exactly what i'm saying

      February 21, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Roberto

      Excellent comment, and one of the few comments that goes beyond the cool factor.
      What is the pollen of this plant is toxic for humans? Humans need to be careful when playing God

      February 21, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sean

      Actually yes, these types of questions are asked on regular bases. Do you have any idea how long it takes to get approval for human testing of pharmaceuticals? The field of science is rather bogged down in this type of bureaucracy to prevent abuse.

      February 21, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • JW Anderson

      Sean – Could you expand on your answer? Perhaps I should have been clearer in my post. Asking the question rhetorically is not the same as having a process in place to evaluate the wisdom of a course of action. Yes I do have an idea of the approval process required to do any human experimentation (at least in this country) but while that may be a useful model to follow, it really isn't relevant to this issue. It is a shame you view processes such as this a bureaucracy "bogging" down scientific pursuit. It is my opinion that the type of pursuit referenced in this article is in desperate need of "bogging" down until several very important issues are seriously dealt with.

      February 21, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • JW Anderson

      Oops! Excuse my arrogance assuming everyone reading this would be from the US. Rather that saying "...in this country," I should have said in the United States. Sorry!

      February 21, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sean

      @JW Anderson
      I think you got the point JW. For a deeper understand I suggest speaking to a professional.

      February 21, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bubba

      They knew what kind of seeds they had before they sprouted them, you know. And they were sprouted in a lab, so if they were Triffids they couldn't have had their Day.

      February 21, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris R

      If you read the article you'd have found out that this plant is the same as a currently existing species with some very minor differences. There wasn't any danger in this.

      February 21, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
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