142-year-old seeds

It all began 142 years ago, in 1879, when he was a botanist William James Bell, Of the University of Michigan, posed a simple and complex question: How long can a seed be left dormant? So he buried somewhere on the campus of his university 20 bottles filled with sand, each containing 50 seeds of each of the 21 chosen varieties, from Black mustard Until White clover Transiently Reflective velor. By assigning his successors the task of digging a bottle every five years and comparing the “performance” of each type.

Over the decades, the number of resistant species gradually dwindled, giving Professor Bell’s successors the idea of ​​spacing crops out, to make the bottles last as long as possible. Advance in this month, The sixteenth was harvested, which means that at a rate of one every 20 years, The experiment can continue Until 2101. If this weren’t the oldest experiment in the world still in progress, it likely would have been One of the oldest in botany.

Of course, the technology is not the same at all. Today, it is possible to look inside the seed before planting and without opening it; The knowledge gained in genetics also makes it possible to predict in advance the failure of some. But university botanists have not abandoned their rituals that, unbeknownst to what William Bell had planned – he had hoped for discoveries likely to help farmers – became a history of a scientific experiment at the same time with botany.

Ideas were added that did not exist in the background in 1879. Thus, the past decade witnessed the emergence of agricultural seed storage projects for future generations, in the event of a global catastrophe. So the question of how long a seed can survive takes on a whole new meaning, as well as the ideal conditions for increasing its chances.

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Hero: The Blatter Mullen (Verbascum plataria), A yellow-flowered plant, half of the seeds collected in the year 2000 were sprouted. The next “harvest” was scheduled to take place in 2020, but a certain virus came to change plans.

Photo: William Bell (standing center) in his classroom / MSU

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