Researchers may have found why some trees can be immortal

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In this Aug. 2, 2019 photo, trees destroyed by the bark beetle stand in a forest near Oderbrueck in the German state Lower Saxony. The sight of bare trees has stoked debate in Germany about the impact of climate change and what measures this heavily industrialized nation should be taking to adapt to and prevent global warming. (Julian Stratenschulte/dpa via AP)

DENTON, Texas (WLNS) – While scientists have found some trees can live for centuries or thousands of years, new research may have discovered why some trees are primed for immortality.

Researchers examined growth rings taken from inside the trunks of 34 healthy ginkgo trees in two Chinese provinces, Jiangsu and Hubei. The trees ranged in age from 15 to 667 years old. They found that the ginkgos didn’t stop growing as they aged, although the rings grew thinner.

The study found that increasing age wasn’t associated with changes in other indicators of tree health: leaf size, its ability to photosynthesize and seed quality.

Researchers found that, no matter what their age, the trees produced protective chemicals that helped defend against outside stressors such as disease or drought.

The study concluded that, in effect, old ginkgo trees stay healthy by preventing aging and maintaining their ability to resist external stresses.

“To all intents and purposes, if it wasn’t for chance and other factors, they are immortal,” said Howard Thomas, a professor emeritus and plant biologist at the University of Aberystwyth in Wales who wasn’t involved in the research.

The study was led by Richard Dixon at the University of North Texas and Jinxing Lin at the Beijing Forestry University and published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday.

Ginkgo trees are native to China and are known for their distinctive fan-shaped leaves that turn buttery yellow in the fall. Besides their longevity, fossils of the species date back to the time of the dinosaurs.

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