News Bites

A New Look at the Tomato’s Ancestry

The first fossilised fruit from the Solanaceae or Nightshade family has been found.

The fossil comes from the same family as tomatoes and potatoes amongst many others and is a form of Physalis. It resembles that of the modern-day ground cherries and tomatillos, characteristic of their papery casing and was found in a fossilised rainforest in Laguna del Hunco in Argentina.

fossil
The fossil with the darker area being the location of the berry which has turned to coal. The fossil is of good quality and the veins of the casing are visible. Peter Wilf, Penn State.

Previously the history of the family was not well known and it was thought that they evolved at the same time that the Andes formed, during the Triassic period. This fossil shows that the family originates from a very different time. Researchers believe that the fossil is 52.2 million years old. At this time, South America was much closer to Antarctica and Australia as part of Gondwana than it is today. The climate would have been tropical rather than the dry climate the area has today.

gondwana
Image from the South Australian Whale Centre showing the arrangement of the continents as Gondwana

 

Due to the papery case of the fruit, it was thought that a fossil would never be found as this sort of matter does not usually fossilise well. Before now the only record of the family’s history was that of a few fossilised seeds. This fossil species has been named Physalis infinemundi.

Researchers hope that they will be able to find more in the same area to help fill in the plant family’s history.

 

 

Based on an article written by Rachael Lallensack in Science.

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