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article imageWorld's oldest fungus discovered

By Tim Sandle     Apr 25, 2017 in Science
Fungi, or microorganisms resembling fungi, date back over 2.4 billion years according to new fossil evidence. Samples have been discovered from rocks that were once underneath the sea floor.
Last month, Digital Journal reported how the remains of bacteria, said to be over 3,770 million years old, were discovered in Canada. These remnants are said to provide conclusive evidence of the age of one of the oldest life forms on Earth. Last month bacteria, this month are more sophisticated unicellular lifeform: fungi.
Such is the importance of the newly-discovered fossilized fungi that scientists. from the Swedish Museum of Natural History, say the discovery could push back the date for the oldest fungi from one billion to two billion years. Moreover, the detection of the fungi on seabed rocks offers a new theory for the development of fungi. This is that fungi arose from a marine environment rather than originating on land. The fossils were discovered after researchers drilled into an ancient rock, formed from bubbly lava close to the Northern Cape Province of South Africa (the Ongeluk Formation).
A 2.4-billion-year-old basalt from the Palaeoproterozoic Ongeluk Formation in South Africa contains ...
A 2.4-billion-year-old basalt from the Palaeoproterozoic Ongeluk Formation in South Africa contains filamentous fossils in vesicles and fractures.
Swedish Museum of Natural History
According to lead researcher, Professor Stefan Bengtson, the reason why the date of the oldest fungus now appears to be considerably older is because the hunt for microbial fossils has been land-focused rather than turning to the oceans. As the researcher explains to BBC Science: "The deep biosphere (where the fossils were found) represents a significant portion of the Earth, but we know very little about its biology and even less about its evolutionary history."
The fossils may not, to the casual eye, look like much and they are, at first glance, indistinguishable from fungal fossils recovered from land. However, the fact the fossils are fungi is easily verified by the presence of mycelia. The mycelium is the vegetative part of a fungus, consisting of a mass of branching, thread-like hyphae. In addition, the age of the rocks can be calculated to reveal the probable age of the fossils.
The remarkable find has been reported to the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution. The research study is called "Fungus-like mycelial fossils in 2.4-billion-year-old vesicular basalt."
More about Fungus, Fungi, Microbiology, Fossil
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