(ORDO NEWS) — Botanists proposed to revive extinct plant species by germinating their seeds from herbarium specimens.
Based on data on the time of collection of these samples and the germination of seeds in different families, the researchers identified 50 extinct plant species with the highest chance of extinction.
In recent decades, scientists are increasingly thinking about the revival of animal species that have disappeared due to human fault.
First of all, we are talking about woolly mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius). However, there are also restoration projects for, for example, Tasmanian wolves (Thylacinus cynocephalus), passenger pigeons (Ectopistes migratorius) and some species of frogs.
At first, they wanted to revive extinct animals with the help of cloning, but today experts are inclined to create their analogues by editing the genome of living species.
However, so far not a single extinct animal species has been brought back to life. This is due primarily to technical difficulties, which may well be insurmountable.
At the same time, the extinction of extinct plant species, which is rarely talked about, is much easier to implement.
The fact is that many herbariums store seeds and spores of plants that have long disappeared from the wild and have not survived even in culture. Some of them can still be germinated – and thereby revive extinct species.
A team of botanists led by Giulia Albani Rocchetti from the Third University of Rome decided to find out how many extinct plant species can be restored based on herbarium specimens.
They first compiled a list of 361 extinct species of flowering plants from 240 genera and 92 families. Of these, 331 extinct species were represented in herbariums.
And 161 species have preserved seeds aged from 12 to 191 years.
Seeds of different plant species remain viable for different periods of time: some can wait decades to germinate, while others do not survive even a few years.
Based on the information and seed survival of the selected species and the timing of sampling, Albany Roschetti and her co-authors selected the top 50 extinction candidates.
Of these, 52 percent belong to just five families: legumes (Fabaceae), mallows (Malvaceae), asteraceae (Asteraceae), amaranths (Amaranthaceae) and bellflowers (Campanulaceae). Representatives of all these groups have seeds with a hard impenetrable shell, which ensures their germination for a long time.
According to the authors, the best chance for a revival is in the species Leucopogon cryptanthus from the heather family (Ericaceae), which grew in Western Australia.
The second and third places are occupied by representatives of the legume family: the North American astragalus Astragalus endopterus and the beautiful streblorhiza (Streblorrhiza speciosa) from Phillip Island in the South Pacific Ocean.
The authors acknowledge that their findings need to be tested in practice. The fact is that in the past, herbarium specimens were often treated with chemicals to control pests and fungi.
And today they are subjected to short-term freezing for the same purpose. Both of these procedures can damage seed germination.
In conclusion, Albani Roschetti and her colleagues note that plant extinction is interesting for several reasons.
Work in this direction will not only lead to the revival of some extinct species, but will also help to learn more about the mechanisms that allow seeds to remain viable for many years.
If at least one extinct plant can be brought back to life in this way, botanists will have to reconsider the very concept of “extinction” in relation to plants.
A species will be considered extinct not after the death of the last living specimen, but after the last seeds lose their ability to germinate.
Although botanists have not yet revived extinct plant species, they have been able to germinate very old seeds of living species.
For example, a few years ago, scientists germinated the seeds of date palms (Phoenix dactylifera) about two thousand years old from different parts of the Judean Desert.
From them, male and female plants were obtained, which can be used to revive the ancient variety of Judaic date palms.
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