Flowering plants may have appeared 180 million years earlier than believed

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Sydney, October 5 (ANI): The discovery of a piece of fossilized amber that came from a plant living more than 300 million years ago, has led scientists to suggest that flowering plants may have started to appear a lot earlier than previously believed.

It is believed that flowering plants only started to show up in the fossil record at the beginning of the Cretaceous period, around 120 million years ago.

But, according to a report by ABC News, the research shows that plants were far more sophisticated 300 million years ago than previously thought.

Paul Sargent Bray of Macquarie University in Sydney, lead author of the research paper, said that different plants produce different types of amber, or fossilized tree resin.

"You can tell what kind of plant is producing what kind of amber by the resin's chemistry," he said.

Sargent Bray said that he found the amber in a piece of coal during a field trip while studying at Southern Illinois University in the US.

When he studied the resin's chemistry, he found it was very similar to that produced by some modern day plants.

"The ancient amber has a very similar chemical makeup to the resin produced by angiosperms, more commonly known as flowering plants," said Sargent Bray.

But he said that angiosperms only start showing up in the fossil record at the beginning of the Cretaceous period, around 120 million years ago.

"The coal containing the amber dates back at least 300 million years, which is known as the Carboniferous period," he said.

Organic geochemist and Sargent Bray's supervisor Dr Simon Green, also of Macquarie University, said that the earth was a very different place 300 million years ago.

"It was dominated by tropical jungles, and it was much hotter and wetter," he said. "But there is no evidence of flowering plants back then," he added.

He said that the dominant plants were gymnosperms, fern like plants that are predominantly extinct today.

Sargent Bray said that the big question is when did the angiosperms diverge from their ancestors, the gymnosperms.

"The amber work doesn't answer that question, but it provides some perspective on parts of the biology that might be involved in the divergence," he said.

According to Bray, more amber specimens need to found between the Carboniferous and Cretaceous period to gain a better understanding of the origin of flowering plants.

He said that they're not suggesting that flowering plants existed earlier than was previously thought, "but perhaps the biology started to appear a lot earlier than expected."

"It sheds some light on the origin of flowering plants," said Green. (ANI)

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