Gene editing might help restore extinct plants used as food, medicine and perfume thousands of years ago

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Ancient arctic plant restored after being frozen for 32,000 years

We debate the ethics of reviving extinct species like the passenger pigeon or woolly mammoth, with scientists clamoring to make some poor, hairy proboscidean clone baby take its first awkward steps out onto the ice. Yet somehow, the idea of resurrecting long-lost plants never really caught on in the public imagination.

Maybe that’s because most people probably couldn’t even name an extinct plant, let alone one they’d want to smell, see, or study, though Rachel Meyer, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, has a hard time picking just one.

There’s a broad, storied slate of lost plant species and varieties “that have been sort of forgotten that maybe we want again,” she said, and it’s looking increasingly likely that “we could bring these things back.”

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Related article:  What's stopping us from using CRISPR to gene edit humans to fight disease?

While trying to sprout old seeds may not be a great bet, [Dorian Fuller, a professor of archaeobotany at University College, London], sees possibilities in combining gene-editing technology like CRISPR and advances in recovering DNA from historical specimens. “Theoretically,” he said, “You could take genetic material out of an ancient plant and insert it into a modern seed.”

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