A volcanic lake in Patagonia managed to preserve a 52 million-year-old fruit in almost perfect conditions. The discovery is of great significance for the scientific world. It was determined to be an ancestor of berry fruits. The fossils appear to resemble ground cherries more than others. For the moment, scientists classified the Patagonian fruit as a member of the Solanaceae family which is more commonly known as nightshades. This family of flowering plants also includes tobacco, peppers, tomatoes, and potatoes. The discovery will offer more information about the world’s most important flowering family.
Until now, scientists had unconfirmed theories regarding the Sonalaceae family of flowering plants. They believed that the nightshade plants started diversification in South America while it was in full process of detaching from the Gondwana supercontinent. The event happened around 30 million years ago. However, different samples of fossils offered data in contradiction with this theory.
The discovery was published in the journal Science. Scientists have already started to analyze the ancient Patagonian fruit, and they’ve already discovered new things about it. For instance, it appears that the Solanaceae family was already in full development by the time the Gondwana separated from South America. The researchers believe that the fossils are part of a branch of the nightshades that went through a late-evolving stage. This branch was already formed when South America was still adjacent to Antarctica.
The discovery is truly one of a kind as it is the first time scientists have ever discovered a direct ancestor of tomatoes. The Solanaceae family has now over 2,000 subspecies, and it would be a cultural asset to discover how they managed to evolve through time. Peter Wilf, the author of the paper and also a professor at Pennsylvania State University, is bewildered by the discovery. He can’t name any other fossil ever seen by men that could preserve as delicate an object as a fruit.
The newly discovered Patagonian fruit encouraged scientists to search for more such fossils throughout Argentina and Antarctica. The goal of such complex projects is to collect more data about one of the world’s most popular families of flowering plants. They plan to retrace the evolutionary line of Solanaceae which can contribute greatly to the traditional views of the plant realm.
Image source: 1