Palaeontologists working in sediments along the lower Kolyma River in northeastern Siberia have unearthed a treasure-trove of Pleistocene fossils, including Mammoths, Wooly Rhinocerus, Bison, Dear, Horses and many smaller mammals. In amongst these bones they discovered the preserved burrows of ground squirrels, lined with hay and filled with seeds stored for later consumption by the squirrels.
In a paper in the 21 February edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team of scientists led by Svetlana Yashina of the Institute of Cell Biophysics at the Russian Academy of Sciences describe how they were able to germinate some of these seeds.
The seeds, from the herbaceous plant Silene stenophylla (Narrow-Leafed Campion), were located in burrows buried 38 m bellow the surface and dated to 31 800 years ago. The sediments in which they were buried had been permanently frozen since the Pleistocene, at a temperature of -38 °C.
Pleistocene Narrow-Leafed Campion Flowers.
The plants grown from the frozen seeds produced another generation of seeds that could also be germinated, suggesting that they were fully viable. This makes the seeds the oldest known living multi-cellular life-forms (seeds are living things as much as adult plants). Prior to this seeds have been revived from archaeological sites in the Middle East, a few thousand years old but far younger than these Siberian seeds. Bacteria have been found in much older sediments (up to 250 million years old) but whether these were as old as the sediments in which they were found is questionable.