Thursday, May 3, 2012

30,000 Year Old Campion

Red Campion, Silene dioica
Campions are plants of the genera Lychnis and Silene and produce some of the prettiest flowers in the Irish countryside, so much so that many, such as the Red Campion (Silene dioica) are very popular cultivated plants. Seven Campion species are recorded in Ireland, five of which are native (1). Of these, four are Silene species, but this low number belies the size of the genus. Some 700 species exist, mostly in the Northern Hemisphere (2).
Sea Campion, Silene maritima
Species of Silene produce between 5 and 100 seeds, which are reddish to gray or black in colour and reniform to globose in shape with the embryo peripheral (2). They are a source of food for many animals and it is for this reason that a number of seeds of the Silene species, Silene stenophylla, were found deep in the permafrost of Siberia. The seeds were found in the ancient burrows of a ground squirrel (Geomys, subgenus Urocitellus) that are now some 38 metres beneath the present day surface (3). Radiocarbon dating of the seeds puts them at 31,800 ± 300 years old, placing there origin back in the Late Pleistocene. The location of the seeds in the permafrost meant that hey were exposed to a constant, stable temperature of -7°C for millenia and this fact, along with surprisingly low levels of ground γ radiation damage for plant material of that age, meant that the seeds were excellently preserved: so well preserved in fact that whole fertile plants were regenerated from the placental tissue of the seed using tissue culture techniques (4). The revived 30,000 year old plants that grew were initially identical to their modern S. stenophylla forebearers, but as they grew they showed different, longer petals than the flowers blooming wild today. The Russian scientists who carried out this back-from-the-dead feat suggest that permafrost can act as a depository for an ancient gene pool (4).

  1. Phillips, 1978. Wild Flowers of Britain
  2. Jürgens, 2004. Biochemical Systematics and Ecology 32 pp. 841–859
  3. Başli et al., 2009. Anadolu University Journal of Science and Technology 10 pp. 161–167
  4. Yashina et al., 2012. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. doi:10.1073/pnas.1118386109

1 comment:

  1. The 'revival' of this plant is really exciting, since it can also let us see how species changed over time, even leting us have better clues about the climate during that time. It would be amazing to find more species able to be brought back like this one.
    Piter K. Boll