Crop Biotech Update

Ancient Flowering Plant Found Poisonous

February 17, 2016

Oregon State University researchers discovered the first-ever fossil specimen of an "asterid", a family of flowering plants where potato, tomatoes, tobacco, petunias and coffee came from.

But these two 20-30 million-year-old fossil flowers, found in a piece of amber, belong to the genus Strychnos, which gave rise to some of the world's most famous poisons. Two poisons from plants in the Strychnos genus became famous, strychnine and curare.

Strychnine was as a pesticide, and was often the deadly component of rat poison. Curare, on the other hand, was used in poison arrows in South America, where natives also developed the poison in blow-gun darts to paralyze hunted prey.

There are now about 200 species of Strychnos plants around the world. They are still being studied for medicinal properties, such as for the treatment of parasitic worm infections and even as drugs to treat malaria.

The discovery of these two fossil flowers, researchers said, suggests that many other related plant families could have evolved in the Late Cretaceous in tropical forests. Their fossil remains, however, still await discovery.

Read the full article at the Oregon State University website.