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

    I love this flower. It is a great achievement, but I would like to know more about the plant itself: is it fragrant? Is it poison? Might it have medical uses? Is it edible, or are there some species that might prefer it? etc. This is the one and only case where I think a plant should be patented. I hope that many more plants and ocean animals are investigated; there are thousands of possible enzymes that could be harvested. And maybe we could save some of the plants and animals that are rapidly becoming extinct right now too.

    February 21, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Rod C. Venger

    This seems to be yet another bad idea implemented with good intentions. Is the plant toxic or poisonous? Is it being safeguarded against pollinators that might take it's pollen into the wild? Is the plant infected with some ancient virus that might them be loosed on the outside world by the pollinator? Do they plan on reintroducing it into the wild and what effect will that have on related species that it might interbreed with through pollinators? Do these guys ever think about the consequences of their actions...or care? They left out all of the really important information.

    February 21, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • DaveO

      Most likely it would not survive in the wild. It went extinct...remember?

      February 21, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • JW Anderson

      The plant is not extinct. It still lives in the wild in parts of Siberia.

      February 21, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Futon Torpedo

    It was extinct for a reason.

    February 21, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • EC

      Agreed. And it's doubly immoral to spend so much money and resources on trying to resurrect extinct species, when so many current, living species are struggling or nearing extinction solely due to human overpopulation, selfishness and pollution.

      February 21, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      And tell us all, what reason was that?

      February 21, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Jackdaw

      Yes, Futon. Jesus killed that flower so that we could live in peace.

      Hibernation is not the same as extinction.

      February 21, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lokust

      You heard it here first kids, doing science is immoral! The more you know! _-*

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

      Maybe but this could give hope for preserving rainforest plants that are dying off now. If naturally freeze dried plants can be resurrected, hopefully we could preserve seeds from existing plants that are in danger of extinction.

      February 21, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cedar Rapids

      yeah god probably destroyed the tundra because the plants were gay right?

      February 21, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • bd

      Ya know, something I think about is these plants/flowers/etc became extinct, maaaaaybe, for a reason. We create practically all our medicine from these sorts of items, sooooooooo, it leads me to wonder IF these past items could create better medical options OR create an unstoppable pathogens that could create untreatable viruses, etc. To be or not to be... Hmmmmmm... 'Tis a question....

      February 21, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Jackdaw

      bd has no idea what a virus is.

      February 21, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bubba

      "And it's doubly immoral to spend so much money and resources on trying to resurrect extinct species," It's their money, and they can spend it however they want. Unless you pay taxes in Russia, what does it matter to you?

      February 21, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Palentology

    Archaeology Magazine had palentologists in Alaska about 10 years ago raiding burrows and they grew a variety of sedges and grasses from seeds recovered that were dated around 2,000 years ago. They were very similar to what is currently growing in the tundra now. I think this field of science is fascinating.

    February 21, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Futon Torpedo


    February 21, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
  6. freelance

    Are you sure they found these seeds in a squirrel's hole and not the GOP/Tea Party's Cupboard?

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

      This is a science forum. Please take your nonsense political junk to the proper place.

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

      It was funny. You have to admit.

      February 21, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  7. palintwit

    Bu, bu, bu, but... Sarah Palin and her teabaggers say that the earth is only 6,000 years old. How can this be?

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

      Please refer to comment above

      February 21, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • yOyO

      That one was funny too!

      February 21, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
  8. svann

    Little Shop of Horrors?

    February 21, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
  9. abe

    [Shrugging shoulders]
    What's the worst that could happen?

    (Someone has to temp fate.)

    February 21, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
  10. toadears

    edelweiss, edelweiss, every morning you greet meeeeee..........

    February 21, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
  11. palintwit

    Evangelicals believe that it's okay to boink your cousin but it's a sin to resurrect an extinct plant.

    February 21, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • rick

      not my cousin....but I am pretty sure the good book says your cousin is fair game

      February 21, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      @rick: lol

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

      @Rick, sounds like a lame hillbilly comeback to me. How did you find the internet anyway?

      February 21, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Arthur Paliden

    Its all fun until someone grows a saber toothed tiger.

    February 21, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Harriet

    There is a possibility the plant can yield a medicinal substance – many do. Maybe it will someday help us because the scientists could do this. HOWEVER, attempting to produce a long-extinct animal has extensive moral and environmental implications. Who will be responsible for the safety and, more urgently, the sustainability required? What if the experiment goes very wrong and an animal is suffering? Who will decide when the scientist's experiment is over and their responsibility to the animals ends? When their responsibility for long-term consequences or liability ends? Who decides how much these animals may reproduce? In what nation? How will their impact be controlled?

    February 21, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • PennyNot

      Some good points but it would also allow for the possibility of extinct species to be brought back that may have valid ecological reasons to be brought back, especially as we are in danger of losing so many with habitat destruction.

      February 21, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Put the coffee down

      Whoa, now hold on a minute there fluffy. It's taken scientists almost a year to make some hamburger from stem cells. Just A hamburger–and who wants to be the first to eat that crap? You really think they're going to make that a big a leap from a dehydrated flower seed to a wooly mammoth? Someday maybe, but not soon.

      February 21, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  14. arthur uzo

    Soon, very soon, not too long, in the near future, in our life time, we will see how science will bring back some horrible things from the past, and when they do, we all will be running trying to hide away from our back to life re-invention.

    February 21, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©


      February 21, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • yOyO

      I believe you mean "GODZIRRA" lol

      February 21, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sean



      February 21, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bubba

      Technically it's GOJIRA. It was some fat guy's nickname "Gorilla-whale" and they stole it for the movie.

      February 22, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Marshal

    It is very reasonable to spend a ton of money on this project because many drugs that have cured diseases and are used as treatment for various other diseases come from plants. Unless you have the cure for cancer or other terminal illnesses, you have no right to say that spending time and resources on possible drug development from prehistoric plants is a waste of resources. What would you say if this plant is the only plant in the world that could cure an illness that you suffer from? You might be singing a different tune!

    February 21, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
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