Brief Summary

Narrow-leafed campion, or Silene stenophylla, is a flowering plant in the Caryophyllaceae, or carnation, family. This low-growing herbaceous perennial grows in cold climates of the arctic tundra vegetation in Eastern Siberia and in the mountains of Northern Japan.

In 2012, Russian scientists reported their success in germinating and growing to adulthood S. stenophylla seeds they excavated in 2007 from an Ice Age rodent burrow 38 meters deep in Late Pleistocene permafrost sediment in Northeastern Siberia. The formation of the surrounding ice indicated that this undisturbed stash of seeds was never thawed, but sealed in dry surroundings at a constant -7°C since the rodent deposited it there ±30,000 years ago (as determined by carbon dating). These scientists recovered a mixture of mature and immature seeds. The mature seeds were damaged so would not germinate, however, the immature seeds had viable sucrose-filled “placental tissue” which survived for such a long time possibly because sucrose has preservative qualities. This placental tissue was carefully extracted from the seeds and when cultured in rich nutrient-containing media, it grew into adult S. stenophylla plants that themselves produced viable seeds. The plants looked very similar to extant S. stenophylla, although the petal shape is subtly different.

The cultivation of Silene stenophylla from 30,000 year old seeds is significant and scientifically provocative in several ways:

• This is the oldest seeds ever cultivated. The next oldest seeds ever germinated are 2000 year old Judean date palm seeds.

• This long-term seed preservation has implications for seed banks, such as the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which work to optimize storage and germination conditions in order to conserve the genetic diversity of rare modern plants in danger of extinction.

• This find is important to studies of evolution, and to studies of how the environment has changed since the Ice Age.

• Excavating these seeds suggest the possibility that seeds of other species, even species that have become extinct since the Ice Age, may also be preserved in frozen tundra environments and thus may be able to be germinated. As global warming melts permafrost, it is possible that some of these “extinct” species may begin to sprout again as their cashes are thawed.

(Black 2012; Gatti 2008; Kaufman 2012; Powell 2012; Stakhov et al. 2007; Wikipedia 2012; Yashina et al. 2012)

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Physical Description

Diagnostic Description

This species was known to science for 170 years before it was resurrected from long term cryostorage (see Brief Summary). First reported in 1842, it has been measured and described in meticulous detail by scientists in several countries. The description below was translated in 1968 by the Israel Program for Scientific Translations, from the original Russian work from 1936:

"Perennial, densely matted; stems numerous, erect, 5-22 cm long, simple,

glabrous; radical leaves numerous, oblong-linear, long-petioled, 1.5 cm

long including petiole, 1-2 mm broad, sparingly ciliate; cauline leaves

similar but smaller, at base dilated and connate in pairs; flowers in a

racemose inflorescence or solitary at tips of stems; pedicels 10-15 mm

long; bracts herbaceous, abruptly attenuate from a broad base, ciliate;

calyx inflated, 10-15 mm long and 5-9 mm broad, glabrous, with broadly

triangular obtuse or acutish teeth; petals light pink, one and a half times

as long as calyx; limb cleft to below the middle into obovate lobes; coronal

scales none; capsule ovoid, 9-10 mm long; carpophore pubescent, 3-4 mm

long; seeds reniform, striate, ca. 1.5 mm long. July - August. (Plate XXXVIII,

Figure 2).

Stony slopes, coastal cliffs, and sandy seashores. -Arctic: Arc. Sib.,

Chuk., An.; E.Siberia: Lena-KoL; Far East: Ze. -Bu., Okh., Sakh. Gen. distr.

Ber., Arc. Am. Described from Arctic Siberia. Type in Leningrad; cotype

in Berlin."

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Silene stenophylla

Silene stenophylla is a species of flowering plant in the family Caryophyllaceae. Commonly called narrow-leafed campion, it is a species in the genus Silene. It grows in the Arctic tundra of far eastern Siberia and the mountains of Northern Japan. Frozen samples, estimated via radiocarbon dating to be around 32,000 years old, were discovered in the same area as current living specimens, and in 2012 a team of scientists successfully regenerated a plant from the samples.[1][2]

Habitat and description[edit]

East Siberian Sea

S. stenophylla grows in the Arctic tundra of far eastern Siberia and the mountains of Northern Japan.[3] It is typically 5–25 cm (2–10 in) tall, has narrow leaves, and a large calyx.[4] It blooms during the summer and has incised petals that are lilac, light pink, or white in color.[3] It is a perennial that grows on stony cliffs and sandy shores.[5] S. stenophylla is one of a few Beringian plant species that did not establish itself in North America.[6]

Recovery of frozen remains[edit]

A team of scientists from Russia, Hungary and the United States recovered frozen Silene species Caryophyllaceae, Silene stenophylla seeds and remains from the Pleistocene-age (1.806 million years to 11,500 years BP) in 2007, while investigating about 70 ancient ground squirrel (genus Urocitellus Geomys ssp) hibernation burrows or caches, hidden in permanently frozen loess-ice deposits[1][2] located at Duvanny Yar, on the right bank of the lower Kolyma River in Sakha Republic, northeastern Siberia, in the plant's present-day range.[7]

Using radiocarbon dating, the age of the seeds was estimated at between 20,000 and 40,000 years, dating the seeds to the Pleistocene epoch.[7] The embryos were damaged, possibly by the animals' activity.[7] The research team presented their findings at the Botany & Plant Biology conference in Chicago, Illinois in 2007.[7] The burrows were found 20–40 meters (66–131 ft) below the present-day surface.[8] Usually the rodents would eat the food in their larders, but in this case a flood or other weather event buried the whole area. Since the rodents had placed the larders at the level of the permafrost, the material froze almost immediately, and did not thaw out at any time since.[8] More than 600,000 fruits and seeds were located at the site.[9]

Duvanny Yar[edit]

Duvanny Yar
Kolyma River
Silene stenophylla is located in Russia
Silene stenophylla
LocationRussian Arctic, Sakha Republic
Coordinates68°38′0.28″N 159°4′43.68″E / 68.6334111°N 159.0788000°E / 68.6334111; 159.0788000Coordinates: 68°38′0.28″N 159°4′43.68″E / 68.6334111°N 159.0788000°E / 68.6334111; 159.0788000

The Duvanny Yar section exposes the yedoma ice complex or suite and is studied by many scientists as it represents a key strategic cross-section of Late Quaternary period East Siberian stratigraphy[2][10][11] and "an important key section for the palaeo-environmental history of the Late Pleistocene Beringia Land, the non-glaciated landmass between the Taymyr Peninsula and Alaska."[12] Near Duvanny Yar is the Pleistocene Park, (Russian: Плейстоценовый парк), a nature reserve on the Kolyma River south of Chersky where an attempt is being made to recreate the northern subarctic steppe grassland ecosystem that flourished in the area during the last ice age.[13]


In February 2012, a team of scientists from the Institute of Cell Biophysics of the Russian Academy of Sciences announced they had successfully regenerated specimens from fruit that had been frozen for 31,800 (±300) years according to radiocarbon dating.[8][14] The accomplishment surpasses the previous record for the oldest plant material brought back to life, of 2000 years set by Judean date palm seeds.[8] According to the BBC, the team led by David Gilichensky used material recovered in 2007 by Stakhov et al.[8][9] Gilichinsky, who was head of the Geocryology Lab, Institute for Physicochemical and Biological Problems in Soil Science at the Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, for many years, died in February 2012, just before the paper was published. He was recognized by the team as a "pioneer in studying microorganisms in Siberian and Antarctic permafrost, his achievement attracted scientists from all over the world to research on permafrost life systems."[2]

Initially the researchers attempted to germinate mature seeds recovered from the fruit.[8] When these attempts failed, they turned to the fruit itself and were able to culture adult plants from placental tissue.[8] The team grew 36 specimens from the tissue.[9] The plants looked identical to modern specimens until they flowered, at which time the petals were observed to be longer and more widely spaced than modern versions of the plant.[9] Seeds produced by the regenerated plants germinated at a 100% success rate, compared with 90% for modern plants.[9] The reasons for the observed variations are not known.[8]

According to Robin Probert of the Millennium Seed Bank, the demonstration is "by far the most extraordinary example of extreme longevity for material from higher plants" to date.[8] It is not surprising to find living material this old, but is surprising that viable material could be recovered, she added. The Russian scientists speculated that the tissue cells were rich in sucrose which acted as a preservative.[8] They also noted that DNA damage caused by gamma radiation from natural ground radioactivity at the site was unusually low for the plant material's age and is comparable to levels observed in 1300-year-old lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) seeds proven to germinate.[9] Probert hopes that the techniques developed in the resurrection of Silene stenophylla may one day be used to resurrect extinct species.[8] Paleontologist Grant Zazula, who has previously disproven claims of ancient regeneration, said: "This discovery raises the bar incredibly in terms of our understanding in terms of the viability of ancient life in the permafrost."[15]

The successful regeneration of the Silene stenophylla plants was cited in 2014 as the inspiration for experiments that discovered a viable giant virus, Pithovirus sibericum, in 30,000-year old Siberian permafrost; the virus infects amoebas.[16]


  1. ^ a b Isachenkov, Vladimir (21 February 2012), "Russians revive Ice Age flower from frozen burrow", Jakarta Post via Associated Press (Moscow), retrieved 31 December 2014 
  2. ^ a b c d Yashinaa, Svetlana; Gubinb, Stanislav; Maksimovichb, Stanislav; Yashinaa, Alexandra; Gakhovaa, Edith; Gilichinsky, David (25 January 2012). Price, P. Buford, ed. "Regeneration of whole fertile plants from 30,000-y-old fruit tissue buried in Siberian permafrost" 109 (10). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS). pp. 4008–13. doi:10.1073/pnas.1118386109. PMC 3309767. PMID 22355102. Retrieved 5 October 2013. 
  3. ^ a b Hideo Toyokuni (1979-02-25). "On some Noteworthy Plants from Hokkaidô, Japan.". Journal of the Faculty of Liberal Arts (Shinshu University) 13: 127–133. ISSN 0583-0605. Retrieved 2012-02-22. 
  4. ^ Pavel Slabý. "Silene stenophylla Ledeb.". Rock Garden Plants Database. Retrieved 21 February 2012. 
  5. ^ S. G. Gorschkova (1970) [1936]. "Silene". In B. K. Schischkin. Flora of the U.S.S.R. ['Izdatel'stvo Akademii Nauk SSSR, Moskau-Leningrad)] 6. Israel Program for Scientific Translations. p. 479. 
  6. ^ Ickert-Bond, Stefanie M.; Murray, David F.; DeChaine, Eric (2010). "Contrasting Patterns of Plant Distribution in Beringia". Alaska Park Science (Arctic Alaska Park Service Symposium and Beringia International Conference) 8 (2): 26–32. Retrieved 21 February 2012. 
  7. ^ a b c d Stakhov, V; Gyulai, Gabor; Szabó, Zoltan; Kovacs, Laszlo G.; Murenyetz, Lilja; Lagler, Richard; Toth, Zoltan; Yashina, S.; Bittsánszky, Andras; Heszky, Laszlo; Gubin, S. (8 July 2007). "Pleistocene-age Silene stenophylla seeds excavated in Russia – a scanning electron microscopic analysis". Botany & Plant Biology 2007. Chicago, IL. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Richard Black. "Ancient plants back to life after 30,000 frozen years". BBC News. Retrieved 21 February 2012. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f Wade, Nicholas (20 February 2012). "Dead for 32,000 Years, an Arctic Plant Is Revived". New York Times. Retrieved 21 February 2012. 
  10. ^ Hopkins et al., D. M., ed. (1982), Paleoecology of Beringia, New York: Academic 
  11. ^ Strauss, Jens; Schirrmeister, Lutz; Wetterich, Sebastian; Borchers, Andreas; Davydov, Sergei P. (18 July 2012). "Grain-size properties and organic-carbon stock of Yedoma Ice Complex permafrost from the Kolyma lowland, northeastern Siberia". Global Biogeochemical Cycles 26 (3).  via Wiley
  12. ^ Strauss, Jens; Wetterich, Sebastian; Schirrmeister, Lutz (June 2010), Permafrost properties of the Yedoma key site at Duvanny Yar (Kolyma lowland, East Siberia), IPY Oslo Science Conference 
  13. ^ "Pleistocene Park Underway: Home for Reborn Mammoths?", National Geographic, May 17, 2005, retrieved 2009-04-20, During the last ice age northeastern Siberia remained a grassy refuge for scores of animals, including bison and woolly mammoths. Then, about 10,000 years ago, this vast ecosystem disappeared as the Ice Age ended. Now, though, the Ice Age landscape is on its way back, with a little help from the Russian scientists who have established "Pleistocene Park. 
  14. ^ "Scientists regenerate a plant – 30,000 years on". AFP. 20 February 2012. Retrieved 21 February 2012. 
  15. ^ "Russian scientists germinate ice-age seed". CBC News. 20 February 2012. Retrieved 20 February 2012. 
  16. ^ Yong, Ed (3 March 2014). "Giant virus resurrected from 30,000-year-old ice : Nature News & Comment". Nature. doi:10.1038/nature.2014.14801. 
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