A US-German team of scientists has discovered the oldest evidence of sexual reproduction in a flowering plant in Burma. The findings were recently published in the Journal of the Botanical Institute of Texas. This evidence came in a piece of amber dating back 100 million years. The research team discovered a cluster of 18 tiny flowers imbedded in the amber. One of the flowers was in the process of making new seeds when it was fossilized.
The biodiversity of the Earth is highly reliant on flowering plants. Co-author of the publication, Prof George Poinar says, “The main aspect of this discovery is that it presents a new look at the biodiversity of early flowering plants and the evidence of reproduction is interesting.” Poinar is from the Oregon State University (USA). He explained, the perfectly preserved specimen is from the mid-Cretaceous Period. It paints a portrait of the period when flowering plants were in the process of changing the face of the Earth in a time when dinosaurs were at the top of the food chain.
Early forms of bees were also trapped in the Burmese amber. The amber and fossils were formed when tree sap covered the specimens. “This allows us to see the flower from different angles and different stages of development,” said Poinar. Reproduction in the tiny flower that was fertilizing had not been interrupted by the fossilization process. “In Cretaceous flowers, we’ve never before seen a fossil that shows the pollen tube actually entering the stigma,” Poinar said. “This is the beauty of amber fossils. They are preserved so rapidly after entering the resin that structures such as pollen grains and tubes can be detected with a microscope.”
The study suggests that the broad mechanisms of reproduction have not changed in 100 million years. However, insects that pollinate the flowers have evolved over time. “Our study on insects from the ambers in Burma shows very primitive forms as well, for instance the bees that we found still have characteristics of wasps and we know bees evolved from wasps,” concluded Poinar. Conversely, the flowers cannot be placed into any present day plant family as of yet.
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