Seed-Saving & Science

The experiment is a multicentury attempt to figure out how long seeds can lie dormant in the soil without losing their ability to germinate. Derrick L. Turner/Michigan State University

Cara Giaimo has a talent linking science and history, and this article demonstrates it as well as any we have linked to from her. Saving seeds is favorite topic in our pages, so this is in good company:

One of the World’s Oldest Science Experiments Comes Up From the Dirt

Every 20 years under the cover of darkness, scientists dig up seeds that were stashed 142 years ago beneath a college campus.

On Thursday morning, several hours before sunrise, Marjorie Weber arrived at a rendezvous spot on the campus of Michigan State University. Three of the school’s other plant scientists were already there, waiting in dribbling snow. As they stood around blowing on their hands, the fifth member of their crew, Frank Telewski, “emerged from the darkness with a shovel slung over his shoulder,” Dr. Weber said.

With everyone else crowded around, Dr. Telewski, the group’s leader, pulled out a copy of a map, drawn like an architectural blueprint. It would guide them to a botanist’s version of buried treasure: a bottle filled with sand and a bunch of really old seeds.

Dr. Weber and her colleagues are the latest custodians of the Beal seed viability experiment: a multicentury attempt to figure out how long seeds can lie dormant in the soil without losing their ability to germinate. Every 20 years, the experiment’s caretakers creep out to a secret location under cover of night, dig up a bottle, scatter its seeds over a tray of sterile soil and see which ones grow.

It’s one of the world’s longest-running experiments, having already gone on for 142 years. And the botanists in East Lansing hope that it will last for at least another 80…

Read the whole article here.

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