Oldest example of fossilized fungus contributed to soil formation and started process of rotting on land

An important fossilized fungi dating back from 400 million years ago has been found. The fungus known as Tortotubus is the oldest example of fossilized fungus and the oldest fossil of any land-dwelling organism to be found till date.

Scientists said that this fungus has played a vital role in laying the formation of more complex plants and later animals by starting the process of rot and soil formation. The fungus has a specific structure, which is similar to the one found in some modern fungi variants.

Study’s lead researcher Dr Martin Smith from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Earth Sciences said that the process of rot and soil formation was required before there could be flowering plants or trees and animals could depend on them.

This very process was kick-started by this fungus, affirmed Smith. Smith and his team members were working on tiny microfossils from Sweden and Scotland considered to be belonging to two different types of fossil first identified in the 1980s.

But later, it was confirmed that the fossils represented parts of a single organism at different stages of growth. Upon reconstruction, the researchers were able to show that the fossils represent mycelium – the root-like filament used by fungus to take out nutrients from soil.

As per scientists, fungus has played an important role in taking life from the seas to the land by starting the rotting process. Fungi have played an important role in the nitrogen cycle as well in which nitrates in the soil are taken up by plant roots and passed along food chain into animals.

“What we see in this fossil is complex fungal ‘behaviour’ in some of the earliest terrestrial ecosystems – contributing to soil formation and kick-starting the process of rotting on land”, affirmed Smith.

Detailed study results have been published in Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society. The project was supported by Clare College, Cambridge.

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