On the subject of long-running experiments in biology, Atlas Obscura has a story about a 137-year-old experiment in the germination of common weeds: “The world’s longest-running experiment is buried in a secret spot in Michigan”.
In the fall of 1879, Dr. William James Beal walked to a secret spot on Michigan State University’s campus and planted a strange crop: 20 narrow-necked glass bottles, each filled with a mixture of moist sand and seeds. Each vessel was “left uncorked and placed with the mouth slanting downward so that water could not accumulate about the seeds,” Beal wrote. “These bottles were buried on a sandy knoll in a row running east and west.”
In the spring of 2000, under cover of night, current WJ Beal Botanical Garden curator Dr. Frank Telewski and his colleague Dr. Jan Zeevaart crept out to the same secret knoll and dug up the sixth-to-last seed bottle—completing the latest act in what has become the world’s longest continually monitored scientific study.
Contrary to the headline, it is not the world’s longest-running experiment. But it is a very long one for biology.