National Geographic News
A plant grown from a 32,000-year-old seed.
A plant regenerated from 32,000-year-old seeds.

Photograph courtesy National Academy of Sciences

Rachel Kaufman

for National Geographic News

Published February 21, 2012

The oldest plant ever to be regenerated has been grown from 32,000-year-old seeds—beating the previous recordholder by some 30,000 years. (Related: "'Methuselah' Tree Grew From 2,000-Year-Old Seed.")

Russian team discovered a seed cache of Silene stenophylla, a flowering plant native to Siberia, that had been buried by an Ice Age squirrel near the banks of the Kolyma River (map). Radiocarbon dating confirmed that the seeds were 32,000 years old.

The mature and immature seeds, which had been entirely encased in ice, were unearthed from 124 feet (38 meters) below the permafrost, surrounded by layers that included mammoth, bison, and woolly rhinoceros bones.

The mature seeds had been damaged—perhaps by the squirrel itself, to prevent them from germinating in the burrow. But some of the immature seeds retained viable plant material.

The team extracted that tissue from the frozen seeds, placed it in vials, and successfully germinated the plants, according to a new study. The plants—identical to each other but with different flower shapes from modern S. stenophylla—grew, flowered, and, after a year, created seeds of their own.

"I can't see any intrinsic fault in the article," said botanist Peter Raven, President Emeritus of the Missouri Botanical Garden, who was not involved in the study. "Though it's such an extraordinary report that of course you'd want to repeat it."

Raven is also head of National Geographic's Committee for Research and Exploration. (The Society owns National Geographic News.)

Plant Study May Help Seed Vaults?

The new study suggests that permafrost could be a "depository for an ancient gene pool," a place where any number of now extinct species could be found and resurrected, experts say.

"Certainly some of the plants that were cultivated in ancient times and have gone extinct or other plants once important to ecosystems which have disappeared would be very useful today if they could be brought back," said Elaine Solowey, a botanist at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies in Israel.

Solowey resurrected the 2,000-year-old date palm that previously held the title of oldest regenerated seed.

Her palm seed, though, had been buried in a dry, cool area, a far cry from the S. stenophylla seeds' permafrost environment.

Regenerating seeds that have been frozen at 19 degrees Fahrenheit (-7 degrees Celsius) for so long could have major implications, said Solowey, who was not involved in the new study.

That's because all seed-saving projects—the most famous being perhaps Norway's so-called doomsday vault, aka the Svalbard Global Seed Vault (see pictures)—depend on freezing seeds.

"Any insight gained on seeds which have been frozen and how to thaw them and sprout them is very valuable," she said.

The Missouri Botanical Garden's Raven added that, if we can uncover the conditions that kept the seeds viable for 32,000 years, then "if you were doing it yourself, you'd be able to preserve [seeds] for longer."

Regenerated-seed study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

41 comments
Liz Bloem
Liz Bloem

To be clear, the seeds did not germinate. The plant was grown using a method called tissue culture. The 2000 year old palm is still the oldest seed to germinate, unless there is something else I don't know about.

vineet Daftari
vineet Daftari

I want to germinate 30 years old cotton seed please tell me any way to do it.

Bob H.
Bob H.

I know the article says that the plant was native to Siberia. However no place did the article say that the plant continues to be found in Siberia in the wild. I wonder then if the plant was extinct from the world or not, and this is the first of its kind to grow today? Any one else on this?

Juli Woodson
Juli Woodson

It's so beautiful.......welcome back, little plant! 

Elisabeth Crute
Elisabeth Crute

This is simply amazing, planting seeds that have survived all of these thousands of years!

Jessica Gillette
Jessica Gillette

I wonder now if the seeds could be cultivated to open a new flower to the florist market?

Ob Bop
Ob Bop

The unearthed virus awaiting discovery is ready to cull the human herd from 7-billion to, perhaps, 200,000.

Maybe it will be a 100-percent culling that eradicated the parasitic human herd and leave a space for a new "top dog" of the critter kingdom to reign over the planet.



Agnes Gray Chaney
Agnes Gray Chaney

It would be really nice to see a followup to this article.  What plans are there for bringing back other plants?  Will this plant be returned to the ecosystem? And what success, if any, have they had?

Julie Slama
Julie Slama

Has there been a repeated cycle? I checked the PNAS but could only find the original article. It is now 9/13 and I'd love to see a followup story!

Regina Hallmark
Regina Hallmark

This is totally awesome !!!! I am a harvester of seed and I love to grow plants so this really is something for me !!!!!

Jeff Davis
Jeff Davis

will these plants be up for sale sometime soon?

Zhengxin Li
Zhengxin Li

so I could revive in the future as long as I keep myself in refrigerator???????

Roz Dotson
Roz Dotson

curiousier and curiousier...almost scary...almost...totally fascinating!

Albert Cadda
Albert Cadda

This achievement sort of puts a "chink in the armor" of the "young Earth theorists" who still think that the Earth is less than six thousand years old.

But, knowing these young Earth loonies, they will probably say the results were faked because, "nothing" can be older than six thousand years; it says so in the Bible!

Barb Burk
Barb Burk

Actually, that is not what we creationists would say.  It would be more like "ancient seeds were sprouted - cool.  But how do you know they were 32,000 years old in the first place?"

Barb Burk
Barb Burk

Actually, that is not what we would say.  The results are the results - ancient seeds grew - cool.  What we would ask is that "how do you know the seeds were 32,000 yrs. old to start with?"

Patricia Pearcy
Patricia Pearcy

The Bible says, at Genesis chapter 1, verse 1: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  Also, in chapter two, verse 4, it states: This is a history of the heavens and the earth in the time of their being created, in the day that Jehovah God  made earth and heaven.    Note the words, 'time' and 'day'. The words 'time' and 'day' are merely time periods. The earth has obviously been here for a very long time.

Michelle Layfield
Michelle Layfield

@Albert Cadda Since they don't trust science they wouldn't trust the research study.  They would say it was a lie and that researchers were paid off or faking it!  The Bible says nothing is older than 6,000 years, so that's it!  Of course, we have already passed doomsday...but they can explain that away!  Hmmm, how convenient!

Guille Senn
Guille Senn

@Albert Cadda I think they don't trust carbon dating either lol....

Barb Burk
Barb Burk

Patricia - I have to disagree with your interpretation of the time periods of Genesis 1 & 2. 

“Day” is defined right at the beginning of Genesis. In verse 5 we see day, evening, night and morning - a literal earth day.

As well, when “day” or in Hebrew "yom" is qualified by the following, it always means a literal day, not a longer period of time:

A - “yom” plus a number, either first, second, etc. or one, two, three, etc. (occurs 410 times in OT, outside of Genesis 1)

B - “morning” and “evening” together without “yom” (38 times)

C - “yom” plus “morning” or “yom” plus “evening” (23 times)

D - “yom” plus “night” (52 times)

These qualifiers are all present in Genesis 1.  Yes "yom" can mean a period of time but the context in this case does not allow it to mean anything more than a literal day.  We have context in our English as well.  Consider "back in my grandfather's day..." and "it rained for three days causing severe flooding."  The definition of day comes from the context.

As well the meaning of “day” is confirmed in Exodus 20:11 - For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day.

Barb Burk
Barb Burk

Please don't act as our spokesperson because you haven't the foggiest idea what we think or would say.  Trusting in science is not the issue.    What we would disagree with is the interpretation of the age of the seeds used in this study.  Radiocarbon dating is "iffy" at best, as there are many variables, so no one knows the exact age of the seeds to start with.  That they are old we would agree with, but how old is another matter.

There is nothing wrong with the research in this study and we would all agree to that fact.  "Lying, paid off, faking it?"   You guys really need to get a life instead of wasting your time making up nonsense about something of which your knowledge is certainly negligible.

Esther Barnett
Esther Barnett

Also,  I will point out that we have no specific day predicted for Doomsday. No man shall know the day or hour.

Esther Barnett
Esther Barnett

@Michelle Layfield Actually,  t

that is inaccurate and clearly said by someone who hasn't read the Bible. It does not give a specific length of time, but rather that is a time scale set up by people using clues marked in the passages. However,  while I do not subscribe to that time scale, I do believe in the Bible. You don't have to believe as I do, but it wouldn't kill you to show other people and their theories/beliefs some respect by not leaping to the top of your high horse and mocking them.

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