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)
  1. Elizabeth

    Wonderful, amazing. Blah, blah, blah to all those who say "should this even be done?!" Pffffft. Like we aren't taking care of our own demise quite nicely. I want to see all those glorious prehistoric plants. Please, please, please, let's get some ferns in there next!!

    February 21, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Phil in KC

    It's pretty little plant and it's neat that they can bring these plants back from so long ago. It gives us a living glimpse at the past. But I would really love to see a live wooly mammoth before I die.

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

      Oh, you've set-up such a nice joke! I'll resist and see if others can fill in the blank.

      February 21, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
  3. slrtx

    Feed me Seymour!

    February 21, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
  4. banasy©

    Oh, how do I get a hold of you to sign you up??
    I "m going to make you a starrrrrrrrr!

    February 21, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Rick Santorum

    I don't believe it...it's puely politics to make my religion look bad. Everyone who has read the Holy Bible knows that the Earth is only between 3,000 years old. Just wait ntil my scientists disprove another scientific theory. Like global warming, it's only a theory and my scientists will discredit these "theories" in no time.

    February 21, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Gracko

    Let's resurrect life from 20,000 years ago so we can neglect, exploit and eventually kill it off again.

    February 21, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
  7. andres

    god creates dinosaurs, god destroys dinosaurs, god creates man, man destroys god, man creates dinosaurs, dinosaurs eat man.

    February 21, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sean

      Great line, and fun movie. The only problem is we only have proof that two of those every existed.

      February 21, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • TruAmerikan

      No, I'm pretty sure dinosaurs existed too. However, I have doubt you ever existed in an English class.

      February 21, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sean

      @TruAmerikan
      Awwww nice try.

      February 21, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • thelgear

      Woman inherits the earth.

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

      @thelgear
      Not if Santorum and the Catholics have anything to say about it.

      @ TruAmerikan (kettle)
      You’re right TruAmerikan I should have proofread my comment before posting. But back to the topic, I can provide proof of Humans and Dinosaurs if you have proof of this ‘god’ character please share. You could single handedly end a global debate and put those evil atheist in their place.

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

      @Sean, LOL
      @TruAmerikan – That was a lame, trying to call him out on a simple typo. And you are proof that there is no god, being as big an imbecile as you are... how could there be a god? So cruel... lol

      February 21, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Fallen Angel

    I think this is a very good thing because as we all know that an extinct plant brought back to life,can only be a positive thing.As the Russian scientists claimed this plant is producing fruit which will hopefully help feed the starving masses across the globe.This is one scientific developement that is a positive thing for mankind,unlike development of weapons etc.Maybe mankind is finally learning that we all need to preserve and nuture our world in order to survive.

    February 21, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Epidi

      The "fruit" is a seed pod and I don't believe it is edible. So much for feeding the masses. There is already enough gentically engineered fruits & veggies that were supposed to feed the masses – most of what you get in the supermarket is just that. I appreciate your thought path though and I wish it were true.

      February 21, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • life_as_it_is

      Very True.

      Discover, invent more green stuff rather than arms and enemity. Life on earth has to flourish not diminish.

      February 21, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hummm???

      All fruit are not good for human consumption. Ambition and greed are a natural part of the human nature! Unless the human species goes extinct there will continue to be humans that will maneuver to gain power and control over other humans that have less will or guts to protect themselves against such people. “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” Until the human nature is fundamentally changed we will need strong moral people with the ability to defend truth and good not only by character and legislation but sometimes by force of arms.

      February 21, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
  9. ELH

    I thought that Russians had stopped making outrageous scientific BS claims. Apparently not. Next, they will claim that God helped them–no, wait–I confused Rick Santorum with a Russian Scientist.

    February 21, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Byrd

    Nice to see something familiar again. Thanks, Russia.

    February 21, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
  11. chicago2010

    I wonder how religion will explain baby mammoth. I mean, Catholic church would have to make something new up. Otherwise the whole thing make no sense.

    February 21, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dude64

      These guys fell off the back of the Ark and drowned...

      February 21, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Realist

      The "traditional" Catholic church is a joke.

      February 21, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • LuisWu

      Actually the Catholic church accepts evolution and the correct age of the Earth. They view the old testament as largely symbolic.

      February 21, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lucsoren

      Actually, the official Catholic Church stance is that the Universe is as old as Science claims it is and that life did indeed evolve. You can thank Pope John Paul II for helping to enlighten Catholics, although the irony is that quite a few Catholics still refuse to believe that...

      February 21, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Dude64

    Yup, Jurassic Park – maybe before we have Starships? I guess we are not that advanced yet. Maybe by 2050. [Sigh]

    February 21, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • STEVE

      Jurassic?

      big difference between 30,000 years ago and 120 million, not to mention you skipped the entire cretaceous era

      February 21, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dude64

      I'm just trying to put the whole technology thing into perspective. We can grow 30,000 year old seeds but can't have interplanetary travel. Sorry for using Hollywood dated entertainment to prove my point... (Purest)

      February 21, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Mordrud

    oh sure first it's ooh and ah but later there's running and screaming...

    February 21, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • yOyO

      LOL Funny

      February 21, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
  14. AHHHH!!!!

    Have we learned NOTHING from Jurassic Park?!!! THESE PLANTS WILL END UP KILLING ALL OF HUMANKIND!!!!

    February 21, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • csam18

      Actually the dinosaurs were the main problem in the movie, but I get what you're saying.

      February 21, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Jerome Horowitz

    Bet the weed they had back then was something else....

    February 21, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
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