A team of researchers claims to have discovered a berry fossil related to ground cherries and tomatillos that dates back 52 million years. Scientists say the ancient fruit belongs to the family as modern-day peppers, tomatoes, and potatoes.
Initially, scientists believed that ground cherries and tomatillos – most commonly used in Mexican cuisine – evolved only recently, more specifically, around the time the Andes rose. The new discovery, however, leads researchers to believe that South America will yield many findings of the kind in the future.
The region where the ancient fruit was discovered was much closer to Australia and Antarctica 50 million years ago than it is today, claim the scientists. Ruben Cuneo of CONICET, Museo Paleontologico Egidio Ferulgio believes that future fossil plant discoveries in Patagonia will revolutionize previous traditional views on the origin and evolution of modern plants.
The survey was published in the journal Science on Thursday, January 5th, 2017. Little is known about the ancient plant so far, as only a few fossil seeds have been previously discovered and recorded. However, the researchers were able to conclude that the ancient berry found in a Patagonia fossilized forest belongs to the Solanaceae family, most commonly known as nightshade. Various medicinal plants, as well as garden flowers such as petunia, eggplants, bell papers, eggplants, and tobacco also belong to the same family.
Peter Wilf, the lead author of the study and professor of geosciences at Pennsylvania State University said the specimen is one of a kind. He then added that the whole group of plants currently numbers almost 2,000 species.
The fossils were discovered in excellent condition. The researchers found them compressed into a 52-million-year-old Patagonian stone. The samples had the papery lantern-like husks, scientifically called calyx, that grew around fleshy berries intact. Furthermore, the veins of the husk were also preserved. However, the remnants of the fruit itself turned to coal during the fossilization process.
The site where the fossils were discovered is now dry and desolate. However, the scientists said that in the Eocene epoch, the region was near the shore of a caldera lake and had a tropical climate. This led Peter Wilf’s team of researchers to believe that the husk probably served as a flotation device.
Image Source: Pixabay
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