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Exceptional Seed Longevity and Robust Growth: Ancient Sacred Lotus from China

J. Shen-Miller, Mary Beth Mudgett, J. William Schopf, Steven Clarke and Rainer Berger
American Journal of Botany
Vol. 82, No. 11 (Nov., 1995), pp. 1367-1380
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2445863
Page Count: 14
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Exceptional Seed Longevity and Robust Growth: Ancient Sacred Lotus from China
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Abstract

A 1,288 ± 271-yr-old (1,350 ± 220 yr BP, radiocarbon age) seed of Sacred Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera Gaertn.) from an ancient lake bed at Pulantien, Liaoning Province, China, has been germinated and subsequently radiocarbon dated. This is the oldest demonstrably viable and directly dated seed ever reported, the preserved relict of one of the early crops of lotus cultivated by Buddhists at Pulantien after introduction of the religion into the region prior to 372 A.D. A small portion of the dry pericarp of a second lotus fruit from the same locale has been dated as being 332 ± 135-yr-old (270 ± 60 yr BP, radiocarbon age) by accelerator mass spectroscopy at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. This polycentenarian seed not only germinated but is still growing (since March, 1994). Of six old lotus fruits tested, two-thirds germinated, almost all in fewer than 4 d, as rapidly as fruits harvested from the progeny of Pulantien Sacred Lotus plants (under cultivation by the National Park Service in Washington, DC), and more rapidly than fresh fruits of Yellow Lotus [N. lutea (Willd.) Pers.]. Growth of the old lotus is robust: rhizome formation and leaf emergence at rhizome nodes are more rapid than those of the Pulantien progeny, although the leaf width is smaller. Activity of the protein-repair enzyme L-isoaspartyl methyltransferase in the old lotus seed is persistent during germination and is as robust as that in the progeny, and the degree of aspartyl racemization in proteins of the two groups of plants is minimal and essentially identical. The six dated ancient Sacred Lotus fruits range in age from 95 to 1,288 yr (with a mean age of 595 ± 380 yr), evidently reflecting their production, deposition, and preservation at varying times during the intervening millennium.

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