Cretaceous gnetalean yields first preserved plant gum

Emily Alice Roberts, Leyla J. Seyfullah, Robert Frank Loveridge, Paul Garside, David Martill

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    Some liquid plant exudates (e.g. resin) can be found preserved in the fossil record. However, due to their high solubility, gums have been assumed to dissolve before fossilisation. The visual appearance of gums (water-soluble polysaccharides) is so similar to other plant exudates, particularly resin, that chemical testing is essential to differentiate them. Remarkably, Welwitschiophyllum leaves from Early Cretaceous, Brazil provide the first chemical confirmation of a preserved gum. This is despite the leaves being exposed to water twice during formation and subsequent weathering of the Crato Formation. The Welwitschiophyllum plant shares the presence of gum ducts inside leaves with its presumed extant relative the gnetalean Welwitschia. This fossil gum presents a chemical signature remarkably similar to the gum in extant Welwitschia and is distinct from those of fossil resins. We show for the first time that a water-soluble plant exudate has been preserved in the fossil record, potentially allowing us to recognise further biomolecules thought to be lost during the fossilisation process.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number3401
    JournalScientific Reports
    Publication statusPublished - 25 Feb 2020


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