Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Oily Fossils Provide Clues To The Evolution Of Flowers

Date:
April 5, 2001
Source:
Stanford University
Summary:
"An abominable mystery" is how nineteenth-century naturalist Charles Darwin referred to the origin of flowering plants, and the puzzle remains as controversial today as ever. Now a team of Stanford geochemists has entered the debate with evidence that flowers may have evolved 250 million years ago - long before the first pollen grain appeared in the fossil record.

Daffodils, tulips, roses and other flowers are so much a part of our daily lives that we take them for granted.

But to evolutionary scientists, the question of how and when flowering plants appeared on Earth has gone unanswered for more than a century.

Mosses were the first plants to emerge on land some 425 million years ago, followed by firs, ginkgoes, conifers and several other varieties.

According to the fossil record, flowering plants abruptly appeared out of nowhere about 130 million years ago.

Where did they come from, and how could they have evolved so suddenly without any transitional fossils linking them to other ancient plant species?

"An abominable mystery" is how nineteenth-century naturalist Charles Darwin referred to the origin of flowering plants, and the puzzle remains as controversial today as ever.

Now a team of Stanford geochemists has entered the debate with evidence that flowers may have evolved 250 million years ago - long before the first pollen grain appeared in the fossil record.

"Our research indicates that the descendants of flowering plants may have originated during the Permian period, between 290 and 245 million years ago," says J. Michael Moldowan, research professor of Geological and Environmental Sciences.

"We based our findings on an organic compound called oleanane, which we found in the fossil record," he adds.

Moldowan and his collaborators, research associate Jeremy Dahl and graduate student David A. Zinniker, will present their findings at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in San Diego on April 2, during a symposium titled, "Biogeochemistry of Terrestrial Organic Matter."

Oleanane

Oleanane is produced by many common flowering plants as a defense against insects, fungi and various microbial invaders. But the chemical is absent in other seed plants, such as pines and gingkoes.

Using gas chromatography and mass spectroscopy, Moldowan and his colleagues have been able to extract molecules of oleanane trapped in oily rock deposits that are hundreds of millions of years old.

"Our work has shown that oleanane is lacking from a wide range of fossil plants," he notes, "but the chemical is found in Permian sediments containing extinct seed plants called gigantopterids."

That makes gigantopterids the oldest oleanane-producing seed plants on record – an indication that they were among the earliest relatives of flowering plants, concludes biologist David Winship Taylor of Indiana University Southeast, a co-author of the ACS study.

"This discovery is even more significant because we recently found gigantopterid fossils in China with leaves and stems that are quite similar to modern flowering plants," Taylor notes – further evidence that flowering plants and gigantopterids evolved together, roughly 250 million years ago.

Molecular fossils

Moldowan and his colleagues point out that the chemical fossil record can be an important tool for studying the history of life on Earth.

"In our research we use molecular fossils, or biomarkers, such as oleanane to provide evolutionary and paleoenvironmental information from sediments and petroleum," he says. Perhaps one day this technique will help solve Darwin’s "abominable mystery" once and for all.

###

Related Web Page: http://pangea.stanford.edu/GES/faculty/moldowan.html


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Stanford University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Stanford University. "Oily Fossils Provide Clues To The Evolution Of Flowers." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 April 2001. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/04/010403071438.htm>.
Stanford University. (2001, April 5). Oily Fossils Provide Clues To The Evolution Of Flowers. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/04/010403071438.htm
Stanford University. "Oily Fossils Provide Clues To The Evolution Of Flowers." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/04/010403071438.htm (accessed September 18, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Chimp Violence Study Renews Debate On Why They Kill

Chimp Violence Study Renews Debate On Why They Kill

Newsy (Sep. 17, 2014) The study weighs in on a debate over whether chimps are naturally violent or become that way due to human interference in the environment. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Some Tobacco Farmers Thrive Amid Challenges

Some Tobacco Farmers Thrive Amid Challenges

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) The South's tobacco country is surviving, and even thriving in some cases, as demand overseas keeps growers in the fields of one of America's oldest cash crops. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Scientists Given Rare Glimpse of 350-Kilo Colossal Squid

Scientists Given Rare Glimpse of 350-Kilo Colossal Squid

AFP (Sep. 16, 2014) Scientists say a female colossal squid weighing an estimated 350 kilograms (770 lbs) and thought to be only the second intact specimen ever found was carrying eggs when discovered in the Antarctic. Duration: 00:47 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Scientists Examine Colossal Squid

Raw: Scientists Examine Colossal Squid

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) Squid experts in New Zealand thawed and examined an unusual catch on Tuesday: a colossal squid. It was captured in Antarctica's remote Ross Sea in December last year and has been frozen for eight months. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins