Researchers Sprout 141-year-old Plants

by | May 6, 2021 | Environment, Horticulture, Industry News, News, Plants

Plant biologists are bringing dozens of plants to life, after they spent nearly a century and a half underground. A team at Michigan State University unearthed a bottle filled with seeds, apart of a 141-year-old experiment to test their lifespan.

The seeds were buried on campus by Professor William James Beal in 1879. He put a mixture of freshly grown seeds and moderately moist sand into pint bottles, then placed them in the ground. Professor Beal used twenty-one different plant species including:

Agrostemma githagoAmaranthus retroflexusAmbrosia artemisiifoliaAnthemis cotulaBrassica nigraBromus secalinusCapsella bursa-pastorisErechtites hieracifoliaEuphorbia maculataLepidum virginicumMalva rotundifolia, Oenothera biennis, Plantago major, Polygonum hydropiper, Portulaca oleracea, Rumex crispus, Setaria glauca, Stellaria media, Trifolium repens, Verbascum thapsus, Verbascum blattaria).

Bottle buried at Michigan State University.

As the experiment began, germination tests happened every five years in the Autumn. Then an early winter caused a hard freeze in 1919, and teams could not dig up a bottle until the following spring. After that, researchers only checked germination every 10 years. Then in the 100th year of the study, digs were extended to every 20 years. The 15th bottle was unearthed in April 2000, 120 years after it was buried.

Members of the Beal Seed Viability team dug up the latest bottle in April, working at night to protect the seeds from harsh light. The contents have been transferred into sterile potting soil, and are being monitored in a growth chamber. It should take several weeks to see growth, but team members have high hopes. In the last trial, 2 of the 21 species were still germinating.

Teams say learning about species survival rates helps conservation efforts, the advancement of agricultural technology, prevention of invasive species.

The experiment still has another 60 years to go based on the remaining number of bottles.

Original Information Source: http://www.cpa.msu.edu/beal/research/research_frames.htm

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