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In 2012, Russian scientists reported their success in germinating and growing to adulthood S. stenophylla seeds they excavated in 2007 from an Ice Age rodent burrow 38 meters deep in Late Pleistocene permafrost sediment in Northeastern Siberia. The formation of the surrounding ice indicated that this undisturbed stash of seeds was never thawed, but sealed in dry surroundings at a constant -7°C since the rodent deposited it there ±30,000 years ago (as determined by carbon dating). These scientists recovered a mixture of mature and immature seeds. The mature seeds were damaged so would not germinate, however, the immature seeds had viable sucrose-filled “placental tissue” which survived for such a long time possibly because sucrose has preservative qualities. This placental tissue was carefully extracted from the seeds and when cultured in rich nutrient-containing media, it grew into adult S. stenophylla plants that themselves produced viable seeds. The plants looked very similar to extant S. stenophylla, although the petal shape is subtly different.
The cultivation of Silene stenophylla from 30,000 year old seeds is significant and scientifically provocative in several ways:
• This is the oldest seeds ever cultivated. The next oldest seeds ever germinated are 2000 year old Judean date palm seeds.
• This long-term seed preservation has implications for seed banks, such as the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which work to optimize storage and germination conditions in order to conserve the genetic diversity of rare modern plants in danger of extinction.
• This find is important to studies of evolution, and to studies of how the environment has changed since the Ice Age.
• Excavating these seeds suggest the possibility that seeds of other species, even species that have become extinct since the Ice Age, may also be preserved in frozen tundra environments and thus may be able to be germinated. As global warming melts permafrost, it is possible that some of these “extinct” species may begin to sprout again as their cashes are thawed.
(Black 2012; Gatti 2008; Kaufman 2012; Powell 2012; Stakhov et al. 2007; Wikipedia 2012; Yashina et al. 2012)