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2,000 Year-Old Date Seeds Finally Sprout

by Alice Riddell on February 19th, 02020

Date-palm grove (not image of newly planted seeds). Photo: MARC GUITARD / GETTY

Six date-palm trees in Israel have sprouted two millennia after their seeds came into existence. As Sarah Zhang writes for The Atlantic, the collection of seeds recently planted all germinated in ancient archaeological sites and have been radiocarbon dated back to around A.D. 00047. The plants, named Adam, Jonah, Uriel, Boaz, Judith, and Hannah, are the result of a project led by Dr. Sarah Sallon, which started in 02005.

“An archaeologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem allowed Sallon to sift through dusty boxes of plant material recovered from some of Israel’s most famous archaeological sites. She found plenty of seeds for her purpose. “They were in all various stages of disintegration,” Sallon says. “But some were in beautiful condition.” She picked 32 of the best-preserved seeds, and her collaborator Elaine Solowey planted them at a kibbutz in southern Israel. Solowey soaked the seeds in water and applied commercial plant hormones and fertilizer, but the protocol for planting them was essentially no different than for modern seeds.

“It’s quite remarkable this team of researchers managed to germinate seeds of that age,” says Oscar Alejandro Pérez-Escobar, who studies ancient dates at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. The fact that the team has done it not just once but now seven times suggests that ancient seeds could be used to resurrect genes that disappeared after thousands of years of breeding.”

Sarah Zhang, The Atlantic
Alexander Rose - Twitter: @zander