Lotus - oldest seed

Recent research using carbon-dating techniques have shown that lotus seeds are "the oldest demonstrably viable and directly dated seed ever reported". Scientists are now using evidence from lotus seeds to try to understand the ageing process of other species.

Important discoveries

In the 1920s, some lotus seeds were recovered from lake sediments in northeast China. No one knew how old the seeds were at the time, but they were planted and they successfully germinated into plants. But it was only in the 1990s that the age of the germinated seeds were revealed. Astonishingly, they were found to be around 1300 years old.
A photograph of lotus seeds housed in Kew's Economic Botany Collection.
Image: Whole and sectioned lotus seeds housed in Kew's Economic Botany Collection.

Scientists believe that this extraordinary ability to remain viable after so long is due to a special enzyme in the seeds. This enzyme is called L-isoaspartyl methyltransferase and is responsible for the seeds repairing damage to proteins within their cells before germination. This could contribute to our knowledge of the ageing process in other organisms, and scientists are following up research this field.