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Earth Science

Scientists Clone Oldest Living Organism 141

goran72 sends along the story of the world's oldest living organism, a shrub that grows in Tasmania and reproduces only by cloning. Tasmanian scientists have cloned Lomatia tasmanica as part of a battle to save it from a deadly fungus. From the RTBG's press release (which seems to load slowly in the US):"The Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens [RTBG] is working towards securing the future of a rare and ancient Tasmanian native plant... Lomatia tasmanica, commonly known as King's Lomatia, is critically endangered with less than 500 plants growing in the wild in a tiny pocket of Tasmania's isolated south west. The RTBG has been propagating the plant from cuttings since 1994... 'Fossil leaves of the plant found in the south west were dated at 43,600 years old and given that the species is a clone, it is possibly the oldest living plant in the world,' [Botanist Natalie Tapson] said."
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Scientists Clone Oldest Living Organism

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 12, 2009 @05:40PM (#29401099)

    So can we have our Dodo bird back?

    • I guess we will watch Jurassic Park 4 live. :)
      • by node 3 ( 115640 ) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @06:51PM (#29401483)

        I guess we will watch Jurassic Park 4 live. :)

        But only for dinosaurs that are not extinct, and naturally reproduce by cloning.

        Great work scientists! You've cloned an already self-cloning plant! Maybe next you can work on creating flying birds...

        • But only for dinosaurs that are not extinct, and naturally reproduce by cloning.

          Could you explain that last bit there, because I think they are mutually exclusive. To me it sounds like anything "natural" about this plant left in 1994...

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            There's nothing unnatural about it at all. Cloning is a not-uncommon way for plants to reproduce. A branch falls off, and instead of dying, it just becomes a new plant. It isn't cloning in the specific way that us metazoans are cloned, but the net effect is the same- a new individual that's genetically identical to the originator. That's how Lomatia tasmanica reproduces and has reproduced for a long time now. All we've done is help it along since 1994.
            • by Brian Gordon ( 987471 ) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @09:46PM (#29402255)

              Nono, every 20,000 years or so an advanced civilization rises up from the prairies and survives roughly long enough to clone the plant in a lab. The plant has naturally evolved a mechanism whereby it propagates a miles-wide fibrous network of false fossils to interest paleontologists, with the most interesting fossils around the plant itself.

              It's an extraordinarily patient tree.

            • by vux984 ( 928602 )

              A branch falls off, and instead of dying, it just becomes a new plant.

              I'm no biologist, but wouldn't that make it an evolutionary dead end? I mean I've heard of lots of organizems that -can- reproduce asexually and create clones, but I didn't think any ONLY reproduced by cloning.

              Further, I think its absurd to call it the oldest living organism. Clones may be identical but they are separate organisms. If I cloned you and then killed you, you're family would be unimpressed by my 'he's not dead because I clone

              • by Sique ( 173459 )

                Part of the organism still lives at the very place the oldest fossil leaves are found, and there is no evidence of the whole organism ever dying there. So we can assume that the very organism that shed those leaves is the same that is still living (and cloning itself) today.

              • by tsm_sf ( 545316 )
                I'm no biologist, but wouldn't that make it an evolutionary dead end?

                Assuming no mutations?
              • Good question. I looked on Wiki and it appears that it suffers from a polyploidy (it has three sets of chromosomes as opposed to the normal two) that makes it sterile. I guess it suffered some kind of reproductive accident that rendered it sterile in the distant past and cloning effectively became its only option.

                Shit happens.
        • by dissy ( 172727 )

          Great work scientists! You've cloned an already self-cloning plant! Maybe next you can work on creating flying birds...

          Are you making fun of my bird flinging catapult? [eyes node3 suspiciously]

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by D Ninja ( 825055 )

        Jurassic Park 4 Live, huh? I hear the theaters are going to charge an arm and a leg just to see it...

    • Why? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by denzacar ( 181829 )

      So we could have dodo-egg-flavored dog and cat food? Their meat tasted like ass and was somewhat less edible.

      I'd rather have brought back a species whose extinction humans attributed to through over-hunting.
      Like mammoth. I imagine they should be rather tasty.

      Mmmmm... Mammoth ribs...

      • Their meat tasted like ass and was somewhat less edible.

        Really? Is that why we ate them into extinction?
        • by maxume ( 22995 )

          They weren't eaten (particularly much), dogs and such destroyed their eggs, and we humans destroyed their habitat.

        • "..journals are full of reports regarding the bad taste and tough meat of the dodo, while other local species such as the Red Rail were praised for their taste. However, when humans first arrived on Mauritius, they also brought with them other animals that had not existed on the island before, including dogs, pigs, cats, rats, and Crab-eating Macaques, which plundered the dodo nests, while humans destroyed the forests where the birds made their homes." [] We didn't eat them into extinction, we
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I'd rather have brought back a species whose extinction humans attributed to through over-hunting.

        Mmmmm... Mammoth ribs...

        Mmmmm...Neanderthal man...

    • by nmb3000 ( 741169 )

      So can we have our Dodo bird back?

      Of course not, and you shouldn't make light of important research like this. The goal of this project is to ensure that our children's children are still able to enjoy the majesty that is the New York City New Year's celebration.

      That's right - they've cloned Dick Clark.

    • I'd be happy to have our tomatoes back.

    • So can we have our Dodo bird back?

      Why not? There's room for all the creatures of creation... right next to the mashed potatoes.
      Looking forward to that Flintstone's size rack of ribs too!

  • by Beelzebud ( 1361137 ) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @05:42PM (#29401111)
    If this site is "news for nerds", you'd think that nerds would understand what cloning was, and that cloning plants isn't some nefarious activity.
    • by Joe Tie. ( 567096 ) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @05:56PM (#29401195)
      I might agree, except that I was delighted how close that tag came to "what could possibly grow wrong".
    • I think we understand cloning enough to enjoy cloning the rather unique whatcouldpossiblygowrong tag ;)

    • From Frankenstein to modern Hollywood B movies, even otherwise rational people have a tendency to lose their head a little when they see the words 'biology' and 'technology' in the same sentence.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by maxume ( 22995 )

        Beer is a technology that employs biology.

        • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Yes, and it frequently causes one to "lose their head".

        • I'd say its more of a technique than a technology, but besides, it's old, and therefore viewed as OK. Try brewing beer with, say, genetically modified yeast, hops, and barley, and then suddenly you're an evil Frankenstein who wants to play god and poison everyone with vague and undefined toxins and cause AIDS or something. Until biotechnology in general becomes an old thing and the current generation dies off, biotechnology will be associated with fear.

  • by Trepidity ( 597 ) <> on Saturday September 12, 2009 @05:46PM (#29401123)

    First, of course, what exactly constitutes a single "organism" is a bit controversial, especially with plants, and especially with clonal colonies. But even if you accept clonal colonies as bona-fide organisms, Pando [] in Utah may or may not be older than Lomatia tasmanica [], depending on which age estimates you believe.

    • by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @05:52PM (#29401167) Homepage Journal
      They're quite liberal with definitions in Tasmania. If there's more than a year age gap then technically your sister isn't a relative.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        True story. Back in the 1980s I took a hitch hiking trip around Tasmania. I had a lot of trouble getting back to Devonport to catch my flight home because the east coast of Tasmania is a bit of a redneck retirement village and nobody was picking up hitch hikers (damn greenies, etc).

        So I was stuck in this little town but along comes this old VW van. They stop and offer me a ride. Remember the bar scene in Star Wars ep 4? There were six people in that van with hideous facial deformities. And you know what? Th

      • by node 3 ( 115640 )

        They're quite liberal with definitions in Tasmania. If there's more than a year age gap then technically your sister isn't a relative.

        And if there's less than 9 months gap, then technically she's your clone[*].

        [*] I know what you're thinking, but you're wrong. There are no fraternal twins in Tasmania.

    • First, of course, what exactly constitutes a single "organism" is a bit controversial, especially with plants, and especially with clonal colonies.

      Well, I think it's evident that what really excites us when we talk about "the oldest living organism" is that it is the oldest living organism without a genetic/metabolic "reboot." Same as I might brag that my OpenBSD server has an uptime of 5 years. Nobody cares if I've been doing fresh installs over 5 years, but if I've had the same system going without errors, hackers, or random happenstance taking it down, that is bragworthy.

      If it's possible to kill one subset of the organism in question by disease

  • It MAY be the oldest living leafy plant species but mosses and the horseshoe crab and many isopods are much much older and are complex organisms. There are bacteria (these are organisms too) that are millions of years older than this plant.

    • by blueg3 ( 192743 ) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @05:51PM (#29401161)

      Oldest living single organism, not oldest species.

      • Is the clone really the same organism as the original? It may have the same DNA, but identical twins do as well. And if I were ever cloned, I would not consider my clone to be me.

    • by Trepidity ( 597 ) <> on Saturday September 12, 2009 @05:53PM (#29401169)

      This is arguing something different--- not that it's the earliest-to-emerge species with still-living individuals, but that this particular individual is the oldest one still alive. That depends on your definition of "organism" and "individual" and such. Clonal colonies are a bit of an edge case--- they reproduce by continuously producing what could be seen as new individuals, or could be seen as just new branches of the original individual (they often come up from the same root system). To take a similar example, is Pando [] a single organism with a lot of trunks, which has been alive for tens of thousands of years; or is it a colony of individual trees, each of which has been around a lot less long?

      And you can find even more edge cases--- there are stable mats of seagrass that might be 100,000-year-old organisms, if you consider clonal colonies to be individual organisms.

    • by Patch86 ( 1465427 ) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @05:54PM (#29401179)

      I believe they mean oldest living organism, in the sense of oldest living individual creature, and not the species as a whole.

      In other words, they have a specific plant which first sprouted nearly 50,000 years ago. If there's an individual horseshoe crab that is 50,000 years old I'd be very surprised.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by arminw ( 717974 )

        ....which first sprouted nearly 50,000 years ago....

        How do they know this? How do they know that their clock has been running accurately for that length of time? That is always one of the assumptions that is taken for granted when someone gives an age of thousands, millions or even billions of years. The assumptions may be valid, but the're still beliefs, because nobody knows for sure.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by yincrash ( 854885 )
          i believe they do core samples of the root systems and check rings. like ice cores. like all prehistoric analysis, it could be possible that 500 new rings grew in one year, but seeing as there is no evidence of that happening yet, it's improbable.
          • by arminw ( 717974 )

            ....i believe they do core samples of the root systems and check rings...

            The underlying assumption here of course is that each ring corresponds to one year. How about a correspondence to a wet and dry cycle instead? These could occur more often or less often than annually? If these wet and dry cycles occur semiannually for example, then the measurement would be off by a factor of two. There are places in the world today where there are two wet and dry cycles each year. We could try to extrapolate the presen

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              The underlying assumption here of course is that each ring corresponds to one year.

              And it's a reasonable assumption, since that's what has been observed in plants for a very long time.

        • The assumptions are VALID, and therefore are NOT beliefs. If an assumption's validity was not KNOWN, THEN you could argue that it was just a belief. But the assumptions are validated by the fact that multiple disparate lines of evidence BASED on those assumptions CONVERGE ON THE SAME RESULT.
          • by arminw ( 717974 )

            ..If an assumption's validity was not KNOWN...

            An assumption is accepting something as true without proof. The underlying assumption here is that the various clocks that are used have always run at the same rate throughout the measurement. If that assumption, and that is an assumption is true, then the conclusions will be true according to that assumption. However, the assumption itself is a belief that something is true without proof. No matter how much extra evidence we have, if the underlying assumptions

        • That sounds like an argument a 'young earth' proponent would use. The various different methods of dating old things all corroborate each other. Though, to throw in the belief card, the Catholic Church doesn't even support 'young earth' any more...
  • facts (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 12, 2009 @06:04PM (#29401227)

    As a horticulturalist who's worked on tissue culture projects...

    1- tissue culture is growing a piece of plant of a medium (usually agar with nutrients) through various stages

    2- there is no universal formula and different plants need different nutrient and environmental mixes to go through each stage

    3- you're trying to get this piece of plant to create a root and shoot system

    4- it requires many different steps and setups/transplants to walk a piece of plant material through the stages to where you can actually put a piece of rooted material into the ground and know it will make a plant

    5- you'd be amazed how picky (or far) it is to coax a chunk of plant tissue into creating a whole new plant out of it's cells

  • by Gudeldar ( 705128 ) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @06:05PM (#29401235)
    Since when were clones of something considered to be the same organism. I better tell my friend who has an identical twin that she is technically the same person as her sister.
    • Bristlecone pines [] are generally considered the oldest living organisms. It's really a leap to try to count clones as the same organism. And if you do, you have no idea what the oldest is because many species reproduce by clones with unknown dates of origin.
      • Organisms like Pando [] sure look like a single organism to me. The "trees" are simply energy collectors for the plant, if one is destroyed no big deal, it sends up another. Sorta like the hairs on my head, if I cut one, it simply grows back, and they produced inside my body and sent out.

        Pando is actually a male aspen and can reproduce the normal plant way, but the result would produce a new root system from seedlings that are genetically different from Pando, and would be a different organism if they ever t

    • by Trepidity ( 597 )

      Clonal colonies are an edge case of sorts, especially with plants. They're somewhere in between a single plant that keeps sending up new shoots, and new plants that reuse the same root system, depending on how you look at it. It's not just that they're clones, but that they continue to live attached to each other, sprouting from the same system of roots and often sharing nutrients.

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I did them both, and I couldn't tell the difference.

  • Good Job (Score:5, Insightful)

    by laron ( 102608 ) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @06:17PM (#29401285)

    So they cloned a plant that has hitherto successfully cloned itself for a thousands years without any help?

  • by Frogg ( 27033 ) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @06:46PM (#29401453)

    it is worth noting that in horticulture 'cloning' is simply the technical name for the process of propagating a plant through the use of cuttings.

    you need no lab to do it - just simply a pair of scissors (or a scalpel), some rooting gel/powder and a rooting medium (compost will do), and a healthy donor ('mother') plant to work from. using a propagation unit will also give better results (perhaps better still if it's heated). 'cloning' plants in this fashion is actually very easy to do - my mum's a keen gardener and she does it with all kinds of plants all the time (one poster here claims to have cloned a plant at age 6 - and i have no reason to doubt that at all!!).

    cloning is the primary method used to produce lots of (genetically) identical baby plants for use in commercial growing of all kinds (including, afaiu, in the illegal production of marijuana)

    personally, i don't think this is particularly newsworthy, even if they are doing this with one of the oldest plant species in the world.

    • This is an absolute untruth and is ignorant to an entire side of plant breeding which brings us some of our most important ornamental plants. Tissue culture is NOT sticking a tomato plant into a jar and waiting for it to sprout roots. Tissue culture is a heavily funded and researched science to clone plants which are not easily (or at all) able to be cloned. This process involves very sterile conditions and movement of plant tissue through various stages of nutrient and plant growth regulation in media.
      • by Frogg ( 27033 )

        agreed, i spoke before reading the article - but what i say isn't an absolute untruth, it's really just a hastily made comment! :)

        the point i was specifically trying to make was that this wasn't the kind of low-level cloning involving dna and rna (like in 'jurassic park') but that this is cloning in the horticultural sense, which is about taking a cutting (living tissue) from a plant and seducing it into growing roots.

        in my second post (below) you'll see that i acknowledge this isn't easy for all plants - i

    • by Frogg ( 27033 )

      i'll reply to myself...! (now i've read the article - heh)

      having said all that, i should point out that whilst cloning / taking cuttings in general is fairly simple process, some plants are harder to root than others - indeed, the article states that rooting these particular cuttings without them dying (blackening) isn't the primary problem, they say they're also having problems when potting-up/transplanting them because the plant has particularly sensitive roots.

      one of the linked articles said that the pla

    • by Frogg ( 27033 )

      to be less of an 'absolute untruth' ;) and for the sake of clarity, perhaps what i meant say was:-

      in its simplest form you need no lab to do it - [...]

  • for the movie, starring Jeff Goldblum and Sam Neill

  • Also, it so happens to be a great food source for pandas. Lucky for the Lomatia Tasmanica they don't live near them.
  • by iamapizza ( 1312801 ) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @07:18PM (#29401615)
    Why would we need another Bob Dole?
  • Actually the oldest organism brought back to life but not cloned was 45 million year old yeast fossilized in amber as per this story from Wired []

    • That's an interesting article, and apparently the yeast wasn't his first old bug to bring back, he brought back a 25 million year old bacteria first.

      That might qualify the initial yeast and bacteria as the longest lived organisms in history (being 45 and 25 million years old), but they would have died within hours or less of being re-awoken. It's simply a colony now, the old ones died a long time ago.

      Very cool though.

  • Some of them have done so for much longer than this plant, eg Bdelloid rotifers []. Smaller organisms, eg bacteria do not reproduce sexually, although through conjugation they can swap genes with other bacteria so you might say that it is not the same thing as it was before.
  • Isn’n “saving” a naturally dying species just as wrong as killing a naturally surviving one?

    Oh, and if you want to get really deep: Aren’t our actions just as much part of nature, and doesn’t this mean, that what we do or don’t do, can by definition not be against nature?
    (If we’re accepting this view, then how do we determine “The Right Thing”(TM), and why would there even be such a concept in nature? For what goal, if not for the benefit of the growth o

  • Exactly what is cloning? I've heard of people cloning plants, but i think thats when they cut off a stem with leaves to regrow it. Is that what they are talking about?


  • lest we forget, they also died from disease. all of them. []
  • C'mon, you can admit it. I am not the only one in this crowd who initially read the headline as Scientists Clone Oldest Living Orgasm.
  • nomnomnom...

    I want to EAT the ancient plant! NOM NOM NOM...


  • So the cloned something that only reproduces by being cloned. Umm... am I missing something here?
  • "which seems to load slowly in the US"

    (A) Australia (and its island state Tasmania) lie on the other side of the largest body of water on the planet - the Pacific Ocean. Bottlenecks occur, but Americans notice it less than Australians do, because Australians visit US websites (cough cough Google) far more often than Americans visit Australian websites.

    (B) Tasmania lies across another body of water from the Australian mainland - Bass Strait (Bass rhymes with ass). Although narrow, the Bass Strait is a bottle

    • by shermo ( 1284310 )

      Bass rhymes with ass

      That's not a particularly helpful comparison, seeing as ass can be pronounced as "arse" or for "ass" as in donkey. For the record, it's Bass straight as in E=mass x c^2.

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