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a 30,000-year-old plant

Some thoughts about the regeneration in vitro of a 30,000-year-old Siberian plant by Russian scientists. The previous record for plant tissue longevity was about 2,000 years.

by Nicole

It is an extraordinary scientific breakthrough which needed several steps.

  1. to find and to identify the content of a squirrel’s burrow (buried about 38 m below the current level of the tundra), and to recognize fruit and seeds of a flowering plant.
  2. to grow it : this stage started the most difficult parts of the experiment.

The fruit found were immature. So they could not germinate. The researchers therefore cultured tissue from placental cells. Then they were able to culture adult plants from the placental tissue. The team grew 36 specimens in this way.

One year later adult plants gave flowers. These first flowers were unisex: only female.
These flowers were pollinated with pollen grains found alongside in the burrow. The flowers gave fruits which germinated and gave plants ....

The regenerated plants have a phenotype which is different from that of current plants. It is indeed an archaic plant that grows.

This result was obtain by the Russin team of S. Yashina in 2003.  It was known in Russia but only published in the United States in 2012 by PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Science).

Many other burrows exist in Eastern Siberia and in Alaska, all around Bering Strait. 
How many old species should be brought back to life? That will give us a better knowledge of the  Pleistocene (penultimate Quaternary Period).

Already Japanese researchers look for other burrows with the hope of finding Squirrel placental tissue that could be cloned. Some people dream of reviving Jurassic Park!

These experiments justify the Svalbard Global Seed Vault: "This shows the value and importance of the global reserve of seeds in Svalbard, which is a conservatory of plant seeds dug underground in Spitsbergen in Norway. The objective is to hold seeds of all crops food on the planet securely in the cold, and thus preserve genetic diversity".


That is a great step in Science but what will we do with it?

Should we be pessimistic or optimistic?


Illustrations (click here >> opens new window):

1. Fruit of Silene stenophylla found in a 30,000 year-old squirrel’s burrow (click >> new window)

2. Flowers of Silene stenophylla, all grown in vitro (click >> new browser window)

References and sources:

S. Yashina: Institut de biologie moléculaire de l’Académie des Sciences de Russie

S. Yashina et al: regeneration of whole fertile plants from 30,000-y-old fruit tissue buried in Siberian permafrost. PNAS 2012 109 (10) 4008-4013; published ahead of print February 21, 2012,

François Savatier: «Pour la Science»

onisep: les sciences pour les metiers de demain (click) gives an account of the experiment in French

wikipedia: Silene_stenophylla (click) describes the plant and gives an account of the experiment

wikipedia: Svalbard Global Seed Vault = Réserve mondiale de semences du Svalbard (clic - en français)


a burrow is a hole used (made) by an animal as its home

Silene stenophylla is commonly called the narrow-leafed campion

permafrost is permanently frozen ground

a seed is a grain from which a new plant can grow

the placenta (for a plant) is the fleshy tissue in the fruit, on which the seeds grow

in vitro means in the laboratory, in isolation from the usual context (literally: 'in glass')

phenotype means the composite of observable characteristics of an organism, such as its morphology, development, biochemical or physiological properties, phenology, behavior, and products of behavior (such as a bird's nest) >> see wikipiedia phenotype (click)

by Nicole, published in June 2012


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revised : 26-June / published : 26-June / created : 22-April-2012

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click here to see illustrations of the 30,000-year-old plant