If you dug up a wooden artefact, how could you tell what type of tree it came from? French chemists have identified unique molecules from an ancient piece of oak that could hold the key.
Pierre Adam and co-workers from the University of Strasbourg, France, used gas chromatography-mass spectrometry to identify triterpenoid molecules, which appear to be related to the natural product oleanane, in a 4900-year-old wood sample collected from river sediments. The discovered triterpenoids are unusual as they only have an oxygen-containing functional group at the C-2 position, while triterpenoids from living trees either have this at C-3 or both C-2 and C-3. This crucial difference could be due to chemical breakdown of the molecules by micro-organisms in the environment where the wood is buried.
The transformation is important, as the structure of the molecules identified today can be directly traced back to the natural molecules that existed in the living wood, so they can be linked.
Read the full article in Chemistry World
And read the OBC paper, highlighted as being HOT by the referees, for free here:
Triterpenoids functionalized at C-2 as diagenetic transformation products of 2,3-dioxygenated triterpenoids from higher plants in buried wood
Gilles Schnell, Philippe Schaeffer, Estelle Motsch and Pierre Adam