Monday, February 27, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #45 - Part 6

And Another Thing: Seeds of past lives

Look at this picture.

It's a plant. Its scientific name is Silene Stenophylla. It's a live plant, fertile, with lacy white flowers and viable seeds. It was grown from seeds from immature fruit found in a squirrel's burrow containing various fruit and seeds. What makes this burrow and these particular seeds and this particular plant special is that burrow had been frozen in the Siberian permafrost for over 30,000 years.

This is the oldest plant ever to be regenerated by more than an order of magnitude: The previous oldest seeds to produce a viable plant were - by comparison in this context - "only" 2000 years old. These seeds are 15 times older.

This is not only major cool, no pun intended, it shows that ancient life forms, ancient DNA, can survive intact in the ice for thousands, even tens of thousands, of years - shades of the X-Files - which in turn opens up the possibility of resurrecting other life forms.

The fact that these seeds were found in the same strata as bones of large mammals, not only including such as bison, horse, and deer, but also mammoth and wooly rhinoceros, has got some people dreaming of the possibility of resurrecting - that is, having actual, live, walking around, eating, drinking - wooly mammoths.

That's not possible now - the necessary cloning technology is still iffy and we lack the intact DNA - so no, there's no Jurassic Park on the horizon, even the dim horizon, even if you ignore the slight time differential between mammoths and dinosaurs of about, oh, 60 million years. But is it in the foreseeable future to have a live mammoth walking around? Depending on the breaks - and finding a big enough sample of intact DNA may be the biggest hurdle - but depending on the breaks? Yes, it is possible. And that - again no pun intended - is really cool.

Oh, and one other quick thing, another anniversary which I missed: Monday, February 20, was the 50th anniversary of the day John Glenn took off to become the first American to orbit the Earth.

It's sometimes hard to think that only 7-1/2 years later, July 20, 1969, the first human walked on the Moon.


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