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. Rick Santorum

    This cannot be true since earth and its lifeforms were created 6000 years ago, as per the only true text in the world – Bible. Those who have done this study will go to hell for blasphemy. Also, contraception is bad, and the earth is flat and it is at the center of the universe. – Rick Santorum

    February 21, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Crocker's Common Sense

      So, is this your first attempt at satire?

      February 21, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rick Santorum

      Yes, I know. I'm learning.

      February 21, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Crocker's Common Sense

      Ok, just checking.

      February 21, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
  2. jj

    Congratulations to the scientists who did this. Science is slowly unravelling the mysteries of life and the universe.

    February 21, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Myto Senseworth

    Something or someone in the future will probably find one of us humans frozen and try to bring us back...then we can destroy the earth again....

    February 21, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Autumnsky

      Not a chance after the singularity they wont ever need us again

      February 21, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • DrJones

      They already did...haven't you seen the tv show Stargate? 😛

      February 21, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
  4. alex

    Yeah, Russians are kinda used to making things work using prehistoric materials.

    February 21, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Josh

      +10 pts

      February 21, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Human

      Why do you have to insult them? It might be a small joke (you times hundreds of other individuals), but why not elevate the conversation about an amazing scientific find, instead of throwing a backhand to another group of our human family. So tired of all this. Everyone can learn from each other.

      February 21, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • HiSpeedFan


      February 21, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • ron

      whats the point of your joke? it wasn't even funny either.

      February 21, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Aleksandr Butowicz

      As a Russian, I personally find his joke hilarious.

      February 21, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sean

      Pleistocene components, Russian Components, ALL MADE IN TAIWAN!

      February 21, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Josh

    I hope that the squirrel who had the foresight to store these seeds in the first place, gets a Nobel Prize for his work.

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


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

      It is the same one from the Ice Age.

      February 21, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
  6. crazy media

    I think somebody stole those from a cemetary. They look like plastic flowers

    February 21, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
  7. ezombiez

    Zombie Flower... get your Ozkew now!

    February 21, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
  8. suesark

    The usual intelligent posts!

    February 21, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
  9. lolol


    February 21, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
  10. HiSpeedFan

    This is probably the plant that somehow caused the ice age. Great. Just great.

    February 21, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
  11. RAN

    Das good news for Mother Russia

    February 21, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
  12. MB

    Nothing like bringing a baby mammoth back to life and then use it in a canned hunt to provide the sick people a unique trophy for their wall. That's what would happen. Bring back the ancient wildlife just to eradicate it again.

    February 21, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • sam

      Well, you little ray of sunshine, you!

      February 21, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • DaveO

      I wonder what Baby Mammoth tastes like? Maybe with some mayo?

      February 21, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rod C. Venger

      I can think of few things more pathetic than a baby mammoth all alone in the world. No kin, no sense of being or self, instincts but no way to express them. Cloned into a lifetime of lab tests and a cage.

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

      @ Rod C. Venger
      Ooo Ooo that’s easy. The ones who believe that fossils were put there by the ‘devil’ to test your faith!

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

      Sean... that was awesome!

      February 21, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rod C. Venger

      @Sean, I guess I was wrong. People that spew off-topic atheistic nonsense...far more pathetic than a lonely mammoth.

      February 21, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sean

      @ Rod C. Venger
      Only a theist could think my comment was off topic lol.

      February 22, 2012 at 8:20 am | Report abuse |
  13. ron

    does this mean that they will be able to bring back dinosaurs? If they can bring back the wolly mamoth they should be able to do the same thing with dinosaurs, maybe even cave men.. it would be like jurassic park.

    February 21, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  14. sam

    Great, squirrels are finally good for something.

    February 21, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
  15. CT Grown

    Just another example of human stupidity. Wasting large sums of money on something that should've never been done to begin with. These plants/animals are extinct for a reason. Their resurrection could devastate present day fauna and animal life. We all know that they will not stop here!

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

      so what reason would there be for why they were extinct?

      February 21, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • yOyO

      I'm sure they've already went far beyond "here" a long time ago...

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