Scientists in Russia have grown plants from fruit stored away in permafrost by squirrels over 30,000 years ago. The fruit was found in the banks of the Kolyma River in Siberia, a top site for people looking for mammoth bones. The Institute of Cell Biophysics team raised plants of Silene stenophylla – of the campion family – from the fruit. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) notes this as the oldest plant material by far to have been brought to life. Prior to this, the record lay with date palm seeds stored for 2,000 years at Masada in Israel.
The squirrels appear to have stashed their store in the coldest part of their burrow, which subsequently froze permanently, presumably due to a cooling of the local climate. “This is by far the most extraordinary example of extreme longevity for material from higher plants,” commented Robin Probert, head of conservation and technology at the UK’s Millennium Seed Bank. “We’d predict that seeds would stay viable for thousands, possibly tens of thousands of years – I don’t think anyone would expect hundreds of thousands of years,” said Dr Probert. “[So] there is an opportunity to resurrect flowering plants that have gone extinct in the same way that we talk about bringing mammoths back to life, the Jurassic Park kind of idea.”