Mónica Carvalho, along with a team of researchers, found fossilized seeds of nine different grape species aged between 20 to 60 million years in Panama, Colombia, and Peru. This discovery, detailed in a publication in Nature Plants, sheds light on the ancient lineage of grapes used in contemporary viticulture.

In excavating the fossil record in the New World tropics, we found seeds that are related to the grape family that date back to 60 million years ago. That led us to revise the fossil record of grapes in the New World. The oldest seed we found is closely related to the large group that gave rise to commercial grapes, to the subfamily Vitoideae,” said Mónica.

The Vitoideae subfamily is the same one as modern commercial grapes. The study revealed that after the extinction event at the end of the Cretaceous period, which wiped out the dinosaurs and radically altered tropical forests, grapes thrived and diversified within the newly formed neotropical rainforests. This grape lineage predates the Cretaceous extinction, with the oldest examples found in India, potentially dispersed by animals and later by birds and mammals. 

The find closes a gap in the fossil record and expands our understanding of grape history, especially in tropical regions. Read the full article in the Michigan News here.