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A Good Kind of Cloning

Here's a cloning project that everyone will agree should be done: a nonprofit group plans to clone the world's oldest tree, a 55 foot tall bristlecone pine that?s 4,767 years old and clings to a wind-swept mountain in eastern California. "It has lived at least a millennium longer than any other known tree," says Forest Service official Larry Payne. The tree, named "Methuselah," predates Christ by almost 3,000 years.

Edmund Schulman discovered the tree and dated it with by a core sample in the 1950s. However, boring provides only an age estimate, because it?s difficult to count 4,767 tree rings in a core sample from a twisted bristlecone trunk that?s 4 ? feet across. "The only way to determine the exact age is to cut it down," Payne says.

Members of Champion Tree Project International hiked up to the tree, which grows at an elevation of 10,400 feet in the White Mountains on the California-Nevada border, and took samples from it. "It's healthy," says David Milarch, of the tree project. "It's gnarly from almost 5,000 years of harsh weather. But they got plenty of good material."

The group sent six 4-inch cuttings from the tree to the University of California by overnight mail, wrapped in towels and packed in ice in a cooler. They also enclosed some needle bundles and pine cone seed pods. Plant pathologist Chris Friel will try to clone the tree. "Within a year, either I'll have an itty bitty little tree or I won't," Friel says. "Frankly, the chances on an ancient tree are extremely slim."

"It would be great to learn what gives it longevity and survival," Payne says. "And when you're looking for the best genes out there, the oldest and the biggest is a good place to start."

Maybe the history of crop circles goes back thousands of years as well. Eltjo Haselhoff shows evidence that they go back at least hundreds of years in ?The Deepening Complexity of Crop Circles, click here.

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