[ASC-media] Media Release - Ancient Mutant Pollen

Sam.Lucia at ga.gov.au Sam.Lucia at ga.gov.au
Thu Oct 9 12:43:21 EST 2003

Geoscience Australia
Ancient mutant pollen tells a tale...
For immediate release Thursday 9 October 2003
Could ancient mutant conifer pollen be used to detect early signs of extreme
atmospheric changes, such as damage to the ozone layer, and to help explain
why dinosaurs are extinct?

Until recently, scientists studying fossilised pollen believed that the
Earth's ancient ecosystem supported a diverse range of conifer flora. While
studying the secrets of trapped pollen in Russia and China, a team of
international scientists discovered that many of the previously identified
conifer pollen species were in fact mutations of the same species.  

Dr Clinton Foster, from Geoscience Australia, Canberra, and Dr Sergey Afonin,
from the Palaeontological Institute, Moscow, have suggested that extreme and
sudden changes in the atmosphere had stressed many species of conifers and
caused them to produce mutant pollen. 

"About 250 million years ago the world was an alien place, with what is now
Russia and China separated by thousands of kilometres and an immense ocean,"
said Dr Foster. "At that time there was an extreme change in the environment
which caused conifers to produce mutant pollen."

"The only thing that linked the two land masses was the air around them.
Sudden and drastic changes in the atmosphere, such as those caused by massive
volcanic eruptions, would have released huge amounts of dust and gases into
the air."

"The extreme atmospheric change would have resulted in damage to the ozone
layer and a subsequent increase in Ultra Violet B light. This caused many
ancient conifers to produce mutant pollen with one, none, three or more
sack-like structures instead of the usual two."

"These tiny, almost invisible conifer pollen could be used to detect extreme
atmospheric changes in our environment, such as damage to the ozone layer,"
said Dr Foster.

"We are seeing these mutations in pine pollen from areas around Chernobyl, as
a result of the nuclear power plant fallout," said Dr Afonin.

The team predict that at other sites of mass extinctions of flora and fauna
they will find similar evidence of mutated plant pollen and spores in ancient
rocks. "As well as continuing to study the Permian Triassic extinction, the
younger dinosaur extinction event of some 65-milion years ago, would be a
good place to test the theory" said Dr Foster.

For more information or to arrange an interview call 

Samantha Lucia 

Science Communicator
Geoscience Australia
Ph: 61 2 6249 9438
Fax: 61 2 6249 9990
Email: sam.lucia at ga.gov.au
Website: www.ga.gov.au
24 hr media hotline  - 1800 880 035 

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