The ginkgo is a living fossil. It is the oldest surviving tree species, having remained on the planet, relatively unchanged for some 200 million years. A single ginkgo may live for hundreds of years, maybe more than a thousand. They’ve survived some of our world’s greatest catastrophes, from the extinction of the dinosaurs to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
So what’s the secret to their longevity?
In the rings and genes of Ginkgo biloba trees in China, some of which are confirmed to be more than 1,000 years old, scientists are starting to find answers.
“In humans, as we age, our immune system begins to start to not be so good,” said Richard Dixon, a biologist at the University of North Texas. But in a way, “the immune system in these trees, even though they’re 1,000 years old, looks like that of a 20-year-old.”
He and colleagues in China and the United States compared young and old ginkgo trees, ranging in age from 15 to 1,300 years old, in a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science. By examining the genetics of the vascular cambium, a layer or cylinder of living cells behind the bark, they found that the ginkgo grows wide indefinitely through old age.
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