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Extreme close-up of needles on the tip of the stem of an embryo plant encased in bright yellow amber resin.

Integrative Biology study yields a first in fossil research: Seeds sprouting from an amber-encased pine cone

By Steve Lundeberg

Needles at the tip of the embryonic plant indicate its extinct pine species

Research from George Poinar Jr., professor emeritus in the Department of Integrative Biology, has uncovered the first fossil evidence of a botanical condition known as precocious germination in which seeds sprout before leaving the fruit.

In a paper published in Historical Biology, Poinar describes a pine cone, approximately 40 million years old, encased in amber from the Baltic region. Several embryonic stems are emerging from the pine cone.

At the sprouts’ tips are needle clusters, some in bundles of five, associating the fossil with the extinct pine species Pinus cembrifolia, which was previously described from Baltic amber.

“Crucial to the development of all plants, seed germination typically occurs in the ground after a seed has fallen,” said Poinar, an international expert in using plant and animal life forms preserved in amber to learn about the biology and ecology of the distant past.

“Seed germination in fruits is fairly common in plants that lack seed dormancy, like tomatoes, peppers and grapefruit, and it happens for a variety of reasons,” he said. However, seed germination is rare in gymnosperms like this pine species, making the discovery all the more note-worthy.

Read the full story here.