APR 26, 2017 5:50 AM PDT

What does the world's oldest fungus tell us about evolution?

A recent discovery at the bottom of the sea has scientists all in a flurry: evidence of what could possibly be the oldest fungal life on the planet, predating the previous earliest fungi by up to 2 billion years. (Previous geological evidence for fungi only extended as far back as 385 million years ago). The fossils were found in hardened lava formations 800 meters (2,625 feet) below South Africa's Northern Cape and the lava dates back 2.4 billion years. The research is published in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

Filaments in the fossils suggest ancient fungi. Photo: Curtin University

Geologist Birger Rasmussen from Curtin University in Australia discovered the fossils by accident while looking at samples extracted from the Ongeluk Formation– a region made up of volcanic rock that once flowed as lava under the seafloor.

"I was looking for minerals to date the age of the rock when my attention was drawn to a series of vesicles, and when I increased the magnification of the microscope I was startled to find what appeared to be exquisitely preserved fossilized microbes," says Rasmussen.

Although the tangled filaments in the fossils are similar to other fungal fossils, more investigation will be necessary in order to say for sure if the fossils found are truly evidence of fungi. Nevertheless there are several very important implications involved in the discovery.

First, it suggests that fungi arose not on land but in the deep sea. "The [research] raises the question of whether we have been looking in the wrong place for the earliest eukaryotes and fossil fungi in particular," writes geologist Nicola McLoughlin from Rhodes University in South Africa, who wasn't involved with the study, in a commentary on the paper.

The organisms in the fossils existed before the Great Oxygenation Event which spread dioxygen into the atmosphere 2.3 billion years ago. That means they evolved in the deep without light or oxygen. The researchers hypothesize that perhaps the fungus-like organism could have survived through a symbiotic relationship with other microbes, using chemically stored energy to stay alive.

"This would have tremendous implications for the lifestyle of the early ancestors of eukaryotes and fungi," Rasmussen told AFP.

Another potential conclusion: if the fossils are not actually a fungus, the organism could be from an extinct branch of life that we’ve never seen before!

Sources: BBC Environment, Science Alert

About the Author
BA Environmental Studies
Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
AUG 05, 2022
Plants & Animals
New survey shows record amounts of coral in Great Barrier Reef
AUG 05, 2022
New survey shows record amounts of coral in Great Barrier Reef
Here’s a little good news for the day: certain areas of the Great Barrier Reef have the highest amount of coral co ...
AUG 24, 2022
Microbiology
This Bizarre Spiky Sack Turns Out Not to be Our Earliest Ancestor
AUG 24, 2022
This Bizarre Spiky Sack Turns Out Not to be Our Earliest Ancestor
It was once hypothesized that a strange, microscopic creature called Saccorhytus, a spiked animal with no anus, was the ...
AUG 26, 2022
Technology
Recycling PPE to Make Stronger Concrete
AUG 26, 2022
Recycling PPE to Make Stronger Concrete
When you’re done wearing that face mask, where does it go?  The use of personal protective equipment (PPE) sk ...
AUG 28, 2022
Technology
Material Used in Electronics Capable of 'Remembering'
AUG 28, 2022
Material Used in Electronics Capable of 'Remembering'
In a recent study published in Nature Electronics, an international team of researchers have discovered how a compound u ...
SEP 22, 2022
Earth & The Environment
Scientists Demonstrate How Air Pollution Changes the Way Plants Communicate
SEP 22, 2022
Scientists Demonstrate How Air Pollution Changes the Way Plants Communicate
In a recent study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, a team of researchers from F ...
SEP 29, 2022
Chemistry & Physics
Grad Student Highlights: Al Ibtida Sultana (Florida Institute of Technology)
SEP 29, 2022
Grad Student Highlights: Al Ibtida Sultana (Florida Institute of Technology)
Al Ibtida Sultana is a Chemical Engineering PhD Candidate at the Florida Institute of Technology whose research focus in ...
Loading Comments...