The oldest viable seeds in the world, dating from the Pleistocene era, are not what we thought.
New dating techniques have revealed that the seeds, which have been grown into live Arctic lupine plants, are not 10,000 years old as believed.
Instead they are modern seeds which contaminated ancient rodent burrows.
However, it remains possible that plants may yet be grown from seeds trapped in ice age permafrost, says the scientist who debunked the record.
More than four decades ago, Canadian scientists published details in one of the world’s foremost scientific journals of how they discovered two dozen seeds of an Arctic lupine plant within ancient lemming burrows.
In Science, they described how these burrows, found at Miller Creek within the Yukon territory of western Canada, had been buried deep within frozen silt since the Pleistocene.
That made them over 10,000 years old. As well as rodent nests, faecal pellets and seeds, they also contained an ancient lemming skull, further confirming their old age.
Crucially, the seeds remained viable, as the scientists managed to germinate and cultivate normal healthy Arctic lupine (Lupinus arcticus) plants from them.
“These were considered to be the oldest viable seeds to have ever grown,” says Grant Zazula, a scientist working for the Yukon Palaeontology Program run by the Government of Yukon, based in Whitehorse, Canada.