What Do Ancient Insects Preserved in Amber Tell Us?

For scientists, plant resin is exciting. Plant resin is one of the most versatile and used products in the world. The resin contains a bunch of organic compounds known as terpenes, which are phenolic and volatile. When the resin fossilizes over a very, very long time, the heat and pressure drive out the terpenes from the resin. First, the resin is converted to a related substance called copal. The copal is subject to more heat and pressure, which leads to the formation of amber. The beauty and rarity of amber caused it to be treated as a gemstone. Its colour is its most attractive trait.

Katharine Gammon explains, “It preserves ancient organisms in incredible detail, down to the veins in insect wings and the lenses on fly eyes. It even captures creatures in the middle of actions, such as running or laying eggs or mating. Studying fossils in amber after studying fossils in rock is like switching from grainy black-and-white television to high-definition movies”. 

One of the most interesting things about amber is that it often contains inclusions within itself. Generally, these inclusions are in the form of perfectly preserved corpses of insects and plants which are thousands of years old. 

Amber is a prized resource among palaeontologists and archaeologists since it can be used to fossilize and preserve all the parts of dead insects. Ambers dating back to the Creataceous period (130 million years ago) have helped scientists discover a lot of information about the period. Amber can preserve plant and animal DNA very well since the pressure leads to dehydration.

In the 1993 film “Jurassic Park”, dinosaurs were genetically engineered after extracting DNA from fossilized mosquitoes. Even though this is not possible in real life, it is interesting to note the impact that amber has had on modern-day popular culture as well. 

Jurassic Park was a massive hit and led to a resurgence in popularity regarding insects completely preserved in ancient amber. Recent projections have suggested that DNA trapped in amber can last more than a million years without getting spoiled. Amber is a valuable natural resource that has had a multitude of uses and benefits.

Amber has been used since ancient times as a remedy for indigestion and other ailments. 

The father of medicine, Hippocrates, recommended using amber to correct digestive distress and colds. In ancient China, amber was used by physicians as a way of calming the mind. Amber is viewed as a gemstone and has been used as jewellery since the Stone Age. Amber was so important in the Mediterranean that there is a special museum in Palanga, Lithuania, devoted to the history and study of amber. Amber has a faint pine smell and was used for religious ceremonies.

In fact, during large festivals, amber was burnt along with a measured quantity of nitric acid to produce a very noticeable aroma. Especially in the Far East, resin and amber were used to make varnishes and lacquer. In ancient China and Japan, ceramics were a prized art form and lacquer was used to harden and give a shine to the finished pot or vase.

Amber is a valuable natural resource that provides scientists with a lot of insight into the ancient world. Preserved insects in amber have also allowed scientists to examine ancient ecosystems with remarkable ease.

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PlantScience blog is an insightful discussion to understand and explain the science behind the great success of plants – how plants live, survive. Nature at its best is a great repository of knowledge and most of it is still a mystery to our minds. However, at Atrimed PlantScience, we have willed ourselves to research, understand the best-kept secrets of Nature and use that knowledge to the betterment of our health. We believe in thinking beyond, knowing beyond and using the best research capabilities to understand the science plants use to live, thrive, adapt and grow. In this blog, you will find details of some interesting plant facts, the science behind them, snippets of history, updates about science and many interesting secrets. Read, subscribe, share your comments about PlantScience with us. Thank you!

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