Selecting the best candidates for resurrecting extinct-in-the-wild plants from herbaria

Giulia Albani Rocchetti, Angelino Carta, Andrea Mondoni, Sandrine Godefroid, Charles C. Davis, Giulia Caneva, Matthew A. Albrecht, Karla Alvarado, Roxali Bijmoer, Renata Borosova, Christian Bräeuchler, Elinor Breman, Marie Briggs, Stephane Buord, Lynette H. Cave, Nílber Gonçalves Da Silva, Alexandra H. Davey, Rachael M. Davies, John B. Dickie, Melodina FabilloAndreas Fleischmann, Andrew Franks, Geoffrey Hall, Gintaras Kantvilas, Cornelia Klak, Udayangani Liu, Leopoldo Medina, Lars Gunnar Reinhammar, Ramagwai J. Sebola, Ines Schönberger, Patrick Sweeney, Hermann Voglmayr, Adam White, Jan J. Wieringa, Elke Zippel, Thomas Abeli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Resurrecting extinct species is a fascinating and challenging idea for scientists and the general public. Whereas some theoretical progress has been made for animals, the resurrection of extinct plants (de-extinction sensu lato) is a relatively recently discussed topic. In this context, the term ‘de-extinction’ is used sensu lato to refer to the resurrection of ‘extinct in the wild’ species from seeds or tissues preserved in herbaria, as we acknowledge the current impossibility of knowing a priori whether a herbarium seed is alive and can germinate. In plants, this could be achieved by germinating or in vitro tissue-culturing old diaspores such as seeds or spores available in herbarium specimens. This paper reports the first list of plant de-extinction candidates based on the actual availability of seeds in herbarium specimens of globally extinct plants. We reviewed globally extinct seed plants using online resources and additional literature on national red lists, resulting in a list of 361 extinct taxa. We then proposed a method of prioritizing candidates for seed-plant de-extinction from diaspores found in herbarium specimens and complemented this with a phylogenetic approach to identify species that may maximize evolutionarily distinct features. Finally, combining data on seed storage behaviour and longevity, as well as specimen age in the novel ‘best de-extinction candidate’ score (DEXSCO), we identified 556 herbarium specimens belonging to 161 extinct species with available seeds. We expect that this list of de-extinction candidates and the novel approach to rank them will boost research efforts towards the first-ever plant de-extinction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1385-1393
Number of pages9
JournalNature Plants
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2022


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