Leaf metallome preserved over 50 million years†
Large-scale Synchrotron Rapid Scanning X-ray Fluorescence (SRS-XRF) elemental mapping and X-ray absorption spectroscopy are applied here to fossil leaf material from the ∼50 Mya Green River Formation (USA) in order to improve our understanding of the chemistry of fossilized plant remains. SRS-XRF of fossilized animals has previously shown that bioaccumulated trace metals and sulfur compounds may be preserved in their original distributions and these elements can also act as biomarkers for specific biosynthetic pathways. Similar spatially resolved chemical data for fossilized plants is sparsely represented in the literature despite the multitude of other chemical studies performed. Here, synchrotron data from multiple specimens consistently show that fossil leaves possess chemical inventories consisting of organometallic and organosulfur compounds that: (1) map discretely within the fossils, (2) resolve fine scale biological structures, and (3) are distinct from embedding sedimentary matrices. Additionally, the chemical distributions in fossil leaves are directly comparable to those of extant leaves. This evidence strongly suggests that a significant fraction of the chemical inventory of the examined fossil leaf material is derived from the living organisms and that original bioaccumulated elements have been preserved in situ for 50 million years. Chemical information of this kind has so far been unknown for fossilized plants and could for the first time allow the metallome of extinct flora to be studied.