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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Mar 6;109(10):4008-13. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1118386109. Epub 2012 Feb 21.

Regeneration of whole fertile plants from 30,000-y-old fruit tissue buried in Siberian permafrost.

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Institute of Cell Biophysics, Russian Academy of Sciences, Pushchino 142290, Russia.


Whole, fertile plants of Silene stenophylla Ledeb. (Caryophyllaceae) have been uniquely regenerated from maternal, immature fruit tissue of Late Pleistocene age using in vitro tissue culture and clonal micropropagation. The fruits were excavated in northeastern Siberia from fossil squirrel burrows buried at a depth of 38 m in undisturbed and never thawed Late Pleistocene permafrost sediments with a temperature of -7 °C. Accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) radiocarbon dating showed fruits to be 31,800 ± 300 y old. The total γ-radiation dose accumulated by the fruits during this time was calculated as 0.07 kGy; this is the maximal reported dose after which tissues remain viable and seeds still germinate. Regenerated plants were brought to flowering and fruiting and they set viable seeds. At present, plants of S. stenophylla are the most ancient, viable, multicellular, living organisms. Morphophysiological studies comparing regenerated and extant plants obtained from modern seeds of the same species in the same region revealed that they were distinct phenotypes of S. stenophylla. The first generation cultivated from seeds obtained from regenerated plants progressed through all developmental stages and had the same morphological features as parent plants. The investigation showed high cryoresistance of plant placental tissue in permafrost. This natural cryopreservation of plant tissue over many thousands of years demonstrates a role for permafrost as a depository for an ancient gene pool, i.e., preexisting life, which hypothetically has long since vanished from the earth's surface, a potential source of ancient germplasm, and a laboratory for the study of rates of microevolution.

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