The Loh Down On Science

Squirrel Stash

Buried treasure? Let's start digging!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, saying, you won't believe who buried it. Ground squirrels. Really, really ancient ground squirrels.

Let's back up. Back in the Late Pleistocene, when wooly mammoths and equally wooly rhinoceroses were stomping around what's now Siberia, little arctic ground squirrels were busily burying nuts, seeds, and fruits. Treasure!

Fast forward thirty-one thousand years. Luckily, Russian Academy of Sciences researchers already did the digging. One-hundred and twenty feet into the permafrost, among the fossil skeletons, they found fossil burrows, complete with their original squirrel stashes.

After some false starts with the seeds themselves, the team tried a new approach: culturing the fruits' seed-making tissue. Eureka! Plants developed! Then matured and produced seeds of their own. Wow! Now those seeds have grown a second generation of Pleisto-plants.

The team thinks the unique never-thawing conditions of the permafrost maintained the
seeds' viability.

The next-oldest regenerated plant is a two-thousand year-old date palm. Thirty-one thousand years. And not an ounce of freezer burn. Amazing.



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