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."

  • Flora USSR. 1936. (English translation, 1968.) Compiled by S. G. Gorshkova, M. M. II'in, O. E. Knorring, O.I.Kuzeneva, O. A. Murav'eva, A. I. Tolmachev, B. K. Shishkin, E. I. Shteinberg, and I. T. Vasil'chenko. B.K. Shishkin, Vol. Ed. V.L. Komarov, Chief Ed. Botanical Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. Plate XXXVIII, fig. 2
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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 successfully regenerated a plant from the samples.[1]

Habitat and description[edit]

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

Discovery of frozen remains[edit]

In 2007, frozen Silene stenophylla seeds were discovered in the Kolyma region of Siberia, in the plant's present-day range.[6] 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.[6] The seeds were thought to have been buried by ground squirrels.[6] The embryos were damaged, possibly by the animals' activity.[6]


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.[7][8][9] The accomplishment surpasses the previous record for the oldest plant material brought back to life, of 2000 years set by Judean date palm seeds.[7] The team, led by David Gilichensky, used material found in about 70 ancient hibernation burrows made by ground squirrels in the genus Urocitellus and located at Duvanny Yar, near the bank of the lower Kolyma River.[7][10] The burrows were found 20–40 meters (66–131 ft) below the present-day surface.[7] 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.[7] More than 600,000 fruits and seeds were located at the site.[10]

Initially the researchers attempted to germinate mature seeds recovered from the fruit.[7] When these attempts failed, they turned to the fruit itself and were able to culture adult plants from placental tissue.[7] The team grew 36 specimens from the tissue.[10] 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.[10] Seeds produced by the regenerated plants germinated at a 100% success rate, compared with 90% for modern plants.[10] The reasons for the observed variations are not known.[7]

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.[7] 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.[7] 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.[10] Probert hopes that the techniques developed in the resurrection of Silene stenophylla may one day be used to resurrect extinct species.[7] 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."[11]

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.[12]


  1. ^ "Regeneration of whole fertile plants from 30,000-y-old fruit tissue buried in Siberian permafrost". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS). Retrieved October 5, 2013. 
  2. ^ 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. 
  3. ^ Pavel Slabý. "Silene stenophylla Ledeb.". Rock Garden Plants Database. Retrieved 21 February 2012. 
  4. ^ S. G. Gorschkova (1936 [trans. 1970]). "Silene". In B. K. Schischkin. Flora of the U.S.S.R. Volume VI. (translated from original Izdatel'stvo Akademii Nauk SSSR, Moskau-Leningrad). Israel Program for Scientific Translations. p. 479.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  5. ^ 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. 
  6. ^ a b c d V. Stakhov, G. Gyulai, Z. Szabó et al. (8 July 2007). "Pleistocene-age Silene stenophylla seeds excavated in Russia – a scanning electron microscopic analysis". Botany & Plant Biology 2007. Chicago, IL. 
  7. ^ 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. 
  8. ^ "Scientists regenerate a plant – 30,000 years on". AFP. 20 February 2012. Retrieved 21 February 2012. 
  9. ^ S. Yashina, S. Gubin, S. Maksimovich et al. (2012). Published online before print 21 February 2012. "Regeneration of whole fertile plants from 30,000-y-old fruit tissue buried in Siberian permafrost". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 109 (10): 4008–13. doi:10.1073/pnas.1118386109. PMC 3309767. PMID 22355102. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f Nicholas Wade (20 February 2012). "Dead for 32,000 Years, an Arctic Plant Is Revived". New York Times. Retrieved 21 February 2012. 
  11. ^ "Russian scientists germinate ice-age seed". CBC News. 20 February 2012. Retrieved 20 February 2012. 
  12. ^ 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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