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. Kim S

    Have they tried smoking it yet?

    February 21, 2012 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Mortalc01l

    Impossible! Republican right-wing Christian zealots KNOW factually that the Earth is only 6,000 years old! Duh!

    February 21, 2012 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
  3. V

    Amazing work. I truly hope this breakthrough leads to further scientific discoveries.

    February 21, 2012 at 6:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • swisscottage

      Totally agree – the fact that this species was brought back to life is astounding and may have great impactions for helping us understand the past. I just hope we proceed cautiously and judiciously. Earth is a much different place now than it was when this species thrived.

      February 21, 2012 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
  4. willy

    Pretty Cool that they can do that. I'm not sure how it's useful but it's pretty cool! Cloned scrat food! Must be what he ate before chasing after that acorn.

    February 21, 2012 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      IIts not this specific discovery that may be useful but what this discovery will then allow us to do. I agree, this is amazing.

      February 22, 2012 at 9:33 am | Report abuse |
  5. wtg

    Most likely something useless like poison ivy

    February 21, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • kyle

      Why are you so negative. We should be somewhat amused; or at least relieved its not our tax dollars (usa) This is a great advancement in the field of science. Now (of course) America will want to do it. Which is okay if it is used in the medical field. I'm okay with it though.

      February 21, 2012 at 6:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sean

      America did it ten years ago bud.

      February 22, 2012 at 8:29 am | Report abuse |
  6. chuck

    i wanna see the mammoth

    February 21, 2012 at 6:36 pm | Report abuse |
  7. gupsphoo

    30,000 years? That's blasphemy! LOL!!!

    February 21, 2012 at 7:05 pm | Report abuse |
  8. evolution not

    That's strange it looks like modern day plants.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sean

      Seen many prehistoric plants have you?

      February 22, 2012 at 8:29 am | Report abuse |
  9. Jorge

    They should use this technology to resurrect Jesus. The fields are lonely without him.

    February 21, 2012 at 7:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • robert

      The Pleistocene Jesus had long fangs, a wholly coat and fur sandals. His sermon on the mound was nothing more than repeated grunts but the message was the same.

      February 21, 2012 at 8:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sean

      Don’t take advice from zombies; they just want to get in your head.

      February 22, 2012 at 8:30 am | Report abuse |
  10. bobcat

    I don't know what to do! My ancient book doesn't tell we what to do about artifical reintroduction of extinct Flora!

    February 21, 2012 at 8:38 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Carlo Domenic

    Interesting expend time and money to recover the Amazon destruction, then get seeds and replanted would take 30,000 years ahead bye bye my planet

    February 21, 2012 at 8:56 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Deaf258

    Just wait until Monsanto get their dirty hands on it!

    February 21, 2012 at 9:37 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Al Gore

    Found in the "permafrost" and thrived 30,000 yrs ago ... must have been global warming back then. That's a lot of cave fires!!

    February 22, 2012 at 8:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Cletus

      Yessirree bob! Who cares what them climate scientists with them fancy book-lernin' degrees say? I don't feel it gettin no hotter here sos it must be one of them conspire-a-sees! Hyuck!

      February 22, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
  14. OregonTom


    February 22, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Cowcharge

    Sure hope they don't regrow the one that killed all the dinosaurs.

    February 22, 2012 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
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