’Zombie seeds’ buried in secret location 144 years ago reveal surprising plant: science alert

In 1879, Michigan State University (MSU) botanist William Beal buried 20 bottles to begin an experiment on seed longevity. After 140 years, some seeds sprout from the latest unearthed bottle.

In a new study, researchers at MSU evaluated the genomes of grown plants to determine if they truly matched those described by Peel. Genetic testing revealed a surprise, and the findings add to our knowledge of long-lived seed species and seed viability under natural soil conditions.

„My biggest surprise was that the seeds sprouted again.” He says Plant biologist Frank Delevsky from MSU. „It’s amazing that something so old can still grow.”

At the start of the experiment, each of the 20 bottles was filled with more than a thousand seeds, covering 21 varieties. Bottles were buried with their mouths tilted down so that water did not collect.

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The main aim was to help farmers figure out how to deal with persistent weeds in the land – before the invention of pesticides – and the idea was to dig up a bottle every five years. Over time, researchers have extended the time between excavations, and a new bottle is now unearthed every 20 years.

Many of the seeds are dead, some are not – and for the first time in this experiment (now the longest running), the team will use the latest DNA analysis technology to identify exactly which seed species. are still strong.

„Molecular genetics work confirmed the phenotypes we saw, ie the plants Perbascum platariaor moth mullein, and a hybrid Perbascum plataria And I have a lot of Spanishor common mullein,” He says Plant biologist Grace Fleming, from MSU.

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„Beale said he was the only one who covered I have a lot of Spanish seeds, so some mixing must have taken place during the making of the bottles.”

A seed bottle excavated from a burial site for 144 years is removed. (Derrick Turner)

With four bottles remaining, the experiment is scheduled to run until the year 2100. The bottles remain in a secret location so no one outside the research team can open or tamper with them.

Although we have seen old seeds still sprouting, and although the aims and relevance of research have changed over time, no study has been so consistent and systematic in its methods for so long.

„In the more than 140 years since the experiment began, the question of seed bank longevity has taken on new relevance, including for rare species conservation and ecosystem restoration; for example, grassland plantings on former farmland,” He says Ecologist Lars Brutvik, from MSU.

Published in thesis American Journal of Botany.

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