Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A living fossil resurrected?

The ancient plant
Could a team of Russian scientists have resurrected a 32,000 year old plant? According to a new report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, these scientists found seeds in an ancient squirrel burrow that had been buried in the Siberian permafrost and kept for the past 30,000 or so years at a cozy -7 degrees Celsius (~-19 Fahrenheit). While thes seeds couldn't germinate, the scientists succeeded in isolating a very few viable cells from the seeds. Plants you see have the amazing ability to regenerate an entire plant from a single cell. So from a single ancient cell isolated in the lab, the Russians regenerated a living fossil that looks surprisingly like a modern narrow-leafed campion, except for its flowers, whose petals were narrower and had a slightly different pattern. The findings still need to be confirmed by molecular genetic methods, as contamination is always a problem in studies like these. But if true, this is an amazing opportunity to study plant evolution. You can read more about the finding in the New York Times or in Ed Yong's blog.

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