Scientists successfully grew plants from 2,000- year- old seeds

It's unusual to find seeds that can remain viable for so long.

The date palm has a historical distribution stretching from Mauritania in the west to the Indus Valley in the east. Archaeobotanical records suggest that the earliest exploitation and consumption of dates is from the Arabian Neolithic some 7000 years before the present.

Methuselah, Adam, Jonah, Uriel, Boaz, Judith, and Hannah—all sat dormant in Judea since biblical times. These seven ancient emissaries are date palm plants.

Now, scientists have restored them with expectations of better understanding their vanished lineage. Scientists germinated all the seeds in the southern Israeli community of Ketura.

Among all, the Methuselah was planted in 2005 from an approximately 2,000-year-old seed found buried under rubble at the ancient fortress of Masada overlooking the Dead Sea.

As a part of a long term project at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies in Israel, researchers want to breed Judean date palms, which wiped out several years ago when repeated struggle cleared out the date plantations.

Morphology of six germinated ancient date seeds before planting. (A) Adam, (B) Jonah, (C) Uriel, (D) Boaz, (E) Judith, (F) Hannah, and (G) HU37A11, an unplanted ancient date seed from Qumran (Cave FQ37) used as a control. Scale bars, 0.5 cm (A, no bar size as unmeasured before planting). Photo credit: Guy Eisner. Credit: Science Advances (2020). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aax0384
Morphology of six germinated ancient date seeds before planting. (A) Adam, (B) Jonah, (C) Uriel, (D) Boaz, (E) Judith, (F) Hannah, and (G) HU37A11, an unplanted ancient date seed from Qumran (Cave FQ37) used as a control. Scale bars, 0.5 cm (A, no bar size as unmeasured before planting). Photo credit: Guy Eisner. Credit: Science Advances (2020). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aax0384

The ages of all seeds range from approximately 2,400 to 1,800 years old. All of the seeds were obtained from three archeological sites in the Judean desert, including Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered.

Date palm seeds can tolerate dehydration, and the ancient date seeds were found in an arid environment, which may be one reason they survived so long.

The sex of the six germinated ancient date seedlings in the current study identified using three sex-linked simple sequence repeats (SSR). Judith and Hannah are female genotypes, and Uriel, Jonah, Boaz, Adam, and Methuselah are male genotypes.

Scientists expect that the trees will eventually produce fruit together, although the date fruits may not be of the same taste as what people ate in ancient times.

Sarah Sallon, one of the leaders of the project, said, “These are something exceptional.”

“I regularly get questions about Methuselah from kids. So, I have written its story for a children’s book. In a time of seemingly relentless bad news about the environment, the date plant’s journey provides some hope for future generations.”

The study is published in the journal Science Advances.

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