A team of scientists from New York University have successfully sequenced the genomes of an extinct 2,000-year-old plant. The Judean date palm, Phoenix dactylifera L, has been plucked from obscurity and resurrected in the modern age.
Cosmos reports that the seeds were discovered in an archaeological excavation of the Levant region. Radiocarbon dating places them between the 4th century BC and the 2nd century AD. The exciting announcement marks the first time scientists have been able to sequence the genes of an extinct plant.
Michael D. Purugganan, leader of the study, explained the significance of the work:
“This ‘resurrection genomics’ approach is a remarkably effective way to study the genetics and evolution of past and possibly extinct species like Judean date palms.” He added, “By reviving biological material such as germinating ancient seeds from archaeological, paleontological sites, or historical collections, we can not only study the genomes of lost populations but also, in some instances, rediscover genes that may have gone extinct in modern varieties.”
Genomic sequencing is a process that can shed light on many aspects of the ancient world. By measuring the foreign genes in a cultivated plant, experts can begin to analyze how such migration and mixing occurred. This in turn can often reflect changes in civil or social elements of a region during a given time frame.
In the Judean date palm, the team identified the presence of genes from dates of the Greek isles. The reportsuggests the genes could have been introduced to the Levant when the Roman Empire expanded into the Middle East. As the Romans brought more varieties of dates, cross germination slowly changed the Judean date palm genomes.