50 mn-year-old fossil plant probed

50 mn-year-old fossil plant probed

In a first, scientists have investigated the chemistry of 50 million-year-old fossil plant by bombarding the fossils with X-rays brighter than a million suns - produced by synchrotron particle accelerators.

The work showed that the distribution of copper, zinc and nickel in the fossil leaves was almost identical to that in modern leaves.

"The synchrotron has already shown its potential in teasing new information from fossils, in particular our group's previous work on pigmentation in fossil animals," explained Nicholas Edwards, a post-doctoral researcher at University of Manchester.

"With this study, we wanted to use the same techniques to see whether we could extract a similar level of biochemical information from a completely different part of the tree of life," Edwards said.

"To do this, we needed to test the chemistry of the fossil plants to see if the fossil material was derived directly from the living organisms or degraded and replaced by the fossilisation process," the researcher noted.

They investigated the fossil leaves from the Eocene-aged 'Green River Formation' of the western United States.

Fossil fuels show that plant chemistry can be preserved over hundreds of millions of years.

"However, this is just the 'combustible' part; until now no one has completed this type of study of the other biochemical components of fossil plants, such as metals," Edwards commented.

By combining the unique capabilities of two synchrotron facilities, the team of researchers produced detailed images of where the various elements of the periodic table were located within both living and fossil leaves.

The findings of the research were published in the journal Metallomics.