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Ice Age Plant Frozen For 30,000 Years Brought To Life By Russian Scientists

MOSCOW – It was an Ice Age squirrel’s treasure chamber, a burrow containing fruit and seeds that had been stuck in the Siberian permafrost for over 30,000 years. From the fruit tissues, a team of Russian scientists managed to resurrect an entire plant in a pioneering experiment that paves the way for the revival of other species.

The Silene stenophylla is the oldest plant ever to be regenerated, the researchers said, and it is fertile, producing white flowers and viable seeds.

The experiment proves that permafrost serves as a natural depository for ancient life forms, said the Russian researchers, who published their findings in Tuesday’s issue of “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” of the United States.

“We consider it essential to continue permafrost studies in search of an ancient genetic pool, that of pre-existing life, which hypothetically has long since vanished from the earth’s surface,” the scientists said in the article.

Canadian researchers had earlier regenerated some significantly younger plants from seeds found in burrows.

Svetlana Yashina of the Institute of Cell Biophysics of the Russian Academy Of Sciences, who led the regeneration effort, said the revived plant looked very similar to its modern version, which still grows in the same area in northeastern Siberia.

“It’s a very viable plant, and it adapts really well,” she said in a telephone interview from the Russian town of Pushchino where her lab is located.

She voiced hope the team could continue its work and regenerate more plant species.

The Russian research team recovered the fruit after investigating dozens of fossil burrows hidden in ice deposits on the right bank of the lower Kolyma River in northeastern Siberia, the sediments dating back 30,000-32,000 years.

The sediments were firmly cemented together and often totally filled with ice, making any water infiltration impossible – creating a natural freezing chamber fully isolated from the surface.

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