Scientists Thaw and Grow Ice Age Plant; Wooly Mammoths Far Behind?

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Tens of thousands of years ago, a prehistoric squirrel buried a plant for the winter. For whatever reason, it never made it back to dig the plant up, and a team of Russian scientists discovered it a few years ago, according to the New York Times. Germinating the ancient plant did not garner success, so the scientists managed to extract cells from the plant’s placenta and grow them into an existing breed.

This isn’t the first time a scientific claim had been made regarding ancient plants. If this one pans out after DNA testing, it will be the oldest living plant ever revived from being frozen. The unique conditions of the bank of the Kolyma River, where the specimens were buried under 125 feet of sediment and thoroughly frozen at about 20 below zero for more than 30 thousand years.

The team claims to have very good radiocarbon evidence to prove the age of the revived plant, adding that a lack of gamma radiation that damages DNA coupled with the plant’s high levels of sucrose and phenols acted like a sort of antifreeze, keeping the cells from being destroyed.

In many situations, when a cell is frozen the damage caused by the freezing actually destroys the cells; this is why cryogenics isn’t more popular, in my opinion. When ice forms inside or outside of the cell structure, it can damage the cell itself, in effect killing it. Dehydration can also occur when a cell is frozen, and the process of thawing out frozen cells runs the same risks as the initial freezing, making it just as dangerous and in effect doubling the chances of damage.

The fluke of the plant’s location and biological makeup made it possible for the plant to survive intact, so this doesn’t seem like the magical way to revive or regrow prehistoric animals, as much as we may all want. Who knows what science may find frozen in places that somehow managed to minimize the damage to cells, though. We may have our dinosaurs yet.

Hopefully, if the testing proves it to be a prehistoric plant species, we could be well on our way to populating the modern world with exotic, ancient plants. I for one can’t wait to bring back the verdant jungles I can only read about. What about you?

[New York Times via Gizmodo ]

Jason doesn’t care so much about prehistoric plants; the restoration of ancient flora is simply a step in the plan to bring about an army of velociraptors to accomplish world domination with. You can keep track of his progress towards this goal on Google+ and Twitter.

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