Working with ancient DNA isn't easy, but Russian researchers have reported that they've generated living plants from the fruit of an arctic flower that has been dead for 32,000 years, reports The New York Times' Nicholas Wade. The campion-like fruit was stored by a squirrel in its burrow in Siberia, and lay buried under the frost until scientists dug it up a few years ago. "This would be the oldest plant by far that has ever been grown from ancient tissue. The present record is held by a date palm grown from a seed some 2,000 years old that was recovered from the ancient fortress of Masada in Israel," Wade adds.
The field of ancient DNA has gained credibility as new technologies have allowed researchers to do things like reconstitute the Neandertal genome, Wade says. "The Russian researchers tried to germinate the campion seeds [they found in the burrow], but failed. They then took cells from the placenta, the organ in the fruit that produces the seeds. They thawed out the cells and grew them in culture dishes into whole plants," he adds. "If the ancient campions are the ancestors of the living plants, this family relationship should be evident in their DNA. ... If the claim is true, then scientists should be able to study evolution in real time by comparing the ancient and living campions. Possibly other ancient species can be resurrected from the permafrost, including plants that have long been extinct."