Aromas Preserved in 17 Million Years Old Amber

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Mumbai: Plants synthesize and release a large variety of volatile molecules that are important for their defence and reproduction. The aromas of these molecules attract pollinators and repel predators like herbivores and pathogens. These molecules also serve as useful products for human beings.

Researchers at IIT Bombay, BSIP Lucknow and Mizoram University led by Prof. Suryendu Dutta reported the remarkable preservation of volatile molecules from 17 million years old amber, the fossil form of plant resin. They recovered the amber from a sedimentary sequence of Mizoram, Northeast India. Based on chemical composition of the amber, the team concluded that the fossilized resins were produced by ‘Sal tree’. Today this tree family is commonly found in all parts of India and Southeast Asia.

This study suggests that the tree family was using complex molecules in a manner similar to that seen in modern species of the family. It is evident from this study that tree family had evolved the biosynthetic mechanisms to produce these volatile molecules in geological deep-time. This research work offers a new approach to unravel the geological evolution of chemically-mediated interactions between plants and their immediate biotic environment.

Prof. Dutta and his team are investigating chemical composition of amber from different basins of India. They believe Indian ambers are important source of crude oils found in many petroliferous basins of India.