Recently Russian scientists discovered an arctic squirrel’s burrow that contained frozen seeds that resulted in the World’s oldest plant sprouting. Surrounded by layers of woolly rhinoceros, bison, and mammoth bones the seeds were found 124 feet (38 meters) below the permafrost. Seed preservation is vital in retaining a healthy diversity of plant species for future use. This discovery will aid in new developments to best preserve seeds in seed vaults around the World.
Preserving seeds in seed vaults is well known with countries saving different species in case of natural disasters. These seed vaults are meant to protect the diversity of plant species for the future. Preserving seeds for decades to centuries to millennia requires science to keep them vital for future use. The ability of the permafrost in keeping these discovered seeds viable after 32,000 years adds a new element in hopes of better preservation methods.
Even though the mature seeds were found damaged, the immature seeds still had viable plant material which was used to germinate them into plants successfully in vials.
A Russian team discovered a seed cache of Silene stenophylla, a flowering plant native to Siberia, that had been buried by an Ice Age squirrel near the banks of the Kolyma River (map). Radiocarbon dating confirmed that the seeds were 32,000 years old.
The team extracted that tissue from the frozen seeds, placed it in vials, and successfully germinated the plants, according to a new study. The plants—identical to each other but with different flower shapes from modern S. stenophylla—grew, flowered, and, after a year, created seeds of their own.
The new study suggests that permafrost could be a “depository for an ancient gene pool,” a place where any number of now extinct species could be found and resurrected, experts say.