WATCH: Tomato ancestor evolved near Antartica

12 January 2017 - 14:46 By TMG Digital

The nightshade family, which includes tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and brinjals, may have evolved near Antarctica according to new research.

The fossil bears a strong resemblance to the Cape gooseberry.
The fossil bears a strong resemblance to the Cape gooseberry.
Image: Gallo Images/ IStock

Some members of this family have husks, such as the Cape gooseberry and tomatillo (Or Mexican husk tomato, used in making salsa verde) - and research published in the journal Science reports that it was a fruit similar to these that scientists found fossilised in 52.2 million year old Patagonian stone.

This points to a much earlier origin for the species than scientists previous suspected.

The fossil still shows the veins of the plant, and the fruit had compacted into coal.

The area the fossils were found in is now a dry and desolate landscape, but back in Eocene era, it was a lot wetter, and existed near a caldera lake. Scientists believe the fruit developed its pod as a flotation device in order to spread its seeds.

It was also near Antarctica - suggesting that the plants may have developed and evolved there too - at least up until the southern continent froze over 34 million years ago.

- Video posted to YouTube by Science Magazine