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Squirrelled away: seeds survive 30,000-year winter

Russian permafrost yields up a secret

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About 30,000 years ago, a squirrel saved some fruits in a burrow that was frozen over, and stayed that way ever since. Now, Russian scientists have not only recovered the seeds – they’ve grown viable plants from them.

According to Discovery, the fruits survived at a depth of 38 meters (125 feet), at -7°C until they were unearthed by David Gilichinsky’s team.

Gilichinsky, of the Cryosol Working Group (which specializes in soil sciences and permafrost), led the team, while the plants were grown by Svetlana Yashina of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Interestingly, while the long, dry freeze protected the seeds, they were also exposed to a huge dose of radiation over their 300-century doze – about 70 Grays in total.

The scientists point out that Earth’s huge permafrost areas probably represent a vast seed bank that could yield information about how life evolved. There is also strong scientific interest in maintaining ancient seeds in case genetic material lost by selective breeding over the years is needed again.

The work is to be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. ®

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