Abu Dhabi (dpa) – The Judean palm was considered extinct until a few years ago when plants could be raised from 2,000-year-old seeds.
Researchers in the United Arab Emirates have now examined the genomes of these revived plants. The specialized journal “PNAS” reported that the genetic changes that scientists found in the seven plants may reflect the increasing influence of the Romans in the eastern Mediterranean.
The Judean palm belongs to true palm trees (Phoenix dactylifera) and has grown over centuries in the eastern Mediterranean. “The” Resurrection Genomics “approach is a remarkably effective method for studying the genetics and evolution of past and possibly extinct species such as the Judean palm, says lead researcher at New York University Michael Boroganan.
Genetic analyzes of ancient samples are a window into the past of research. Scientists wrote that they make it possible to study the evolutionary history and biology of past groups and even extinct species, such as Neanderthals. However, plants pose a challenge, because, unlike bones, for example, plant material often decomposes rapidly, and if it is present at all, usually small amounts of it and severely damaged genetic material can be obtained.
One way out is to raise plants from seeds that were found during archaeological excavations. In 2008, scientists reported successful cultivation of a Judean palm from a seed about 2,000 years old. Researchers have now examined the genome of this plant, baptized Methuselah, and six others. They all come from the Judean Desert in Israel today and thus from the Levant between North Africa and Western Asia, which is important to research.
The region has played an important role throughout history, both in the spread of mankind to different continents and in the beginnings of agriculture. About 2,000 years ago, Persia, Egypt, and Rome vied for power and influence here.
The age of the seeds was determined using the radiocarbon method, the oldest dating back to the fourth century BC, and the youngest from the second century AD. Investigations showed that the plant genome remained largely intact. “Despite aging before germination, not significantly more mutations were added,” the authors write.
Over time, the genes of plants accumulated genes from another type of date palm (Phoenix theophrasti), which today grows on Crete and some other Greek islands. Researchers write that this indicates the growing influence of the Roman Empire in the eastern Mediterranean. “We are fortunate that the date palm seeds can survive for a very long time in the arid environment of the area – in this case more than 2,000 years – and germinate with minimal DNA damage,” says Borujanan.
In addition to the palm trees, other plants have already been brought back to life, including the 1,300-year-old seeds of the Indian lotus flower and nearly 30,000 years of fly seeds.
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