October 30, 2020
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Scientists resurrect long-extinct plants

By Anandita Mehta 
Staff Writer

Amidst global warming and climate change, the earth is losing many animal and plant species, with the United Nations reporting that more species are facing extinction today than ever before. Protecting these extinct species often comes in the form of protecting their environments and natural habitats, but scientists stumbled upon another way to revive extinct plant species — growing trees from seeds that are 2000 years old.

Date trees cultivated from ancient seeds (Twitter).

Israeli doctor Sarah Sallon embarked on a quest to find medicinal plants after experiencing the benefits of herbal remedies but instead ended up re-growing date trees from the first century, according to NPR.

When the team first tried to germinate the seeds in 2005, they had little hopes of success — when the seeds miraculously sprouted, they realized they needed to take a more structured approach than simply planting them and hoping for success, according to the Atlantic.

Working with archeologist Elaine Solowey, Sallon found more seeds from the area where the Dead Sea Scrolls came from and was able to germinate them as well, getting more information regarding their size and weight, which they had failed to do with the first seeds, according to the Atlantic.

According to Smithsonian Magazine, the particular variety of date palm that Methuselah represents went extinct around 500 A.D.

Sallon and Solowey’s success in germinating these ancient date palm seeds holds promise for the resurrection of other lost plant genes, as the ancient seeds hold a form of genetic diversity that can be used to help modern growers fight climate change, disease and pests, the Atlantic reports. 

Since the seeds come from the Dead Sea, it is likely that they had an advantage due to their location being one of the lowest points on earth, which helped create an atmospheric barrier that protected them from deterioration, the Atlantic explains.  

The scientists’ success has not simply stopped at planting the original seeds, but now, as Methuselah, which grew out of the first set of ancient date palm seeds, has aged, Solowey used its pollen on a modern female date palm to grow dates, according to the Atlantic. 

Amazingly, Sallon and Solowey’s success with Methuselah does not even mark the oldest seeds that have been used to germinate a plant. In 2012, a Russian group of scientists were able to germinate 32,000-year-old seeds that had been buried in ice, the Smithsonian describes. 

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