Conifer cones bear their ages well, and still move it


Share post:

Fossil conifer cones can still move their individual seed scales after millions of years. This is the finding of a study conducted by the biologists Dr. Simon Poppinga and Prof. Dr. Thomas Speck from the Plant Biomechanics Group and Botanical Garden of the University of Freiburg.

Conifer cones bear their ages well, and still move it
Photographs of the Keteleeria sp. (left) and Pinus sp. 1 (middle) cones investigated in the study, and an x-ray-computed
 tomography image of the Pinus sp. 2 cone (right) [Credit: © Plant Biomechanics Group]

The cones analyzed in the study therefore represent the oldest known plant structures that are still capable of movement and can also serve as a model for bioinspired technical applications with low maintenance requirements.

Cones from coniferous trees like pines open in response to dry conditions and close in response to wet conditions — a mechanism that enables them to release their seeds under favorable environmental conditions.

In addition, the movement of the individual scales is passive, meaning that it does not require any metabolic energy. These attributes have recently brought conifer cones to the attention of scientists, who aim to use them as biological models for the development of technical devices capable of autonomous movement.

Poppinga and Speck have now discovered that the scales continue to function in this way for an extremely long time: Fossil cones from the Eemian interglacial period, about 126,000 to 113,000 years ago, as well as the middle Miocene, about 16.5 to 11.5 million years ago, still react to changes in moisture by moving their scales.

With the help of x-ray-computed tomography, the researchers demonstrated that the cones are preserved by coalification during the fossilization process and that the fossilized cones show only very few mineral inclusions. This ensures that the fine structures responsible for moisture-dependent movement remain intact.

The researchers published their findings in the journal Scientific Reports.

Source: Albert-Ludwigs-Universitat Freiburg [January 12, 2017]



Related articles

How extraterrestrial auroras can help us find other worlds

University of Leicester planetary scientists have found new evidence suggesting auroras – similar to Earth’s Aurora Borealis -...

First-ever hyperspectral images of Earth’s auroras

Hoping to expand our understanding of auroras and other fleeting atmospheric events, a team of space-weather researchers designed...

New super-predator identified from fossils found more than a century ago

Prehistoric remains discovered more than a century ago have been identified as a new species of marine super-predator.  An...

Mammoths among top finds at Villa Grove dig

Archaeologists and paleontologists spend plenty of time digging in the dirt trying to build on what's known about...

New archaeological find discovered in Akmola region

Archaeologists from the Gumilyov Eurasian National University have found a mound, presumably dating back to the Iron age.  The...

Dead star and distant black holes dazzle in X-rays

Two new views from NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, showcase the telescope's talent for spying objects...

Second oldest church in Germany uncovered

In the so-called "Old Cathedral" in Mainz, which is today the evangelical Church of St John, archaeologists found...

Where did the ‘Siberian unicorn’ disappear?

The beautiful title "Siberian unicorn" belongs to Elasmotherium sibiricum - an elasmotherium Siberian rhinoceros, which as previously thought...