Fungus microfossil finding that would have helped the Earth to recover from the catastrophic ice age.
Much of the scientific community argue that fungi appeared on Earth some 400 million years ago. However, a recent discovery could rewrite the timeline of the origins of this species.
An international team of scientists has discovered what appears to be the microfossil of a 635 million-year-old fungus – breaking the record for the oldest terrestrial fossil – inside rock cavities in southern China.
The researchers explain that the fossilized organism developed during the Ediacaran period when the planet emerged from the catastrophic ice age. The microorganism could have contributed a lot to the Earth’s recovery.
Along with other terrestrial microbes, the fungus-like organism would have the ability to accelerate the chemical climate and thus distribute phosphorus across the oceans, stimulating marine bio productivity.
The fossil was discovered within sedimentary dolomite rocks of the lower formation of Doushantuo, in southern China, by scientists from Virginia Tech, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the University of Education in Guizhou and the University of Cincinnati.
“If our interpretation is correct, [this discovery] will be useful for understanding paleoclimate change and the evolution of early life,” said Tian Gan, a doctoral student at Xiao’s Laboratory. The preserved fossil has several orders of branches, curved filaments and ladder-shaped branching systems.
When the ice age hit the planet, the ocean’s surface froze to a depth of more than a mile and the environment was so hostile that no organism could survive.
Over time, the Earth recovered and produced a larger and more complex biosphere than the previous one, a feat that has been a mystery to scientists, but which, perhaps, the new fossil can solve.
The fossilized microorganism that resembles a fungus could rewrite the temporal history of life on Earth. The researchers believe the fungus-like microorganism and the like may have helped with land reconstruction using a formidable digestive system.
Fungi have digestive systems capable of recycling vital nutrients, chemically breaking rocks and other hard materials using enzymes secreted in the environment, and, consequently, exporting vitality to the ocean.
“Because of their connection with terrestrial plants and important nutritional cycles, terrestrial fungi have a driving influence on biochemical weathering, the global biogeochemical cycle and ecological interactions,” explains Gan. Shuhai Xiao, professor of geosciences at the Virginia Tech School of Science, said that “the question used to be, ‘Were there fungi in the terrestrial realm before terrestrial plants appeared?’ Well, I think our study suggests so. Our fungus-like fossil is [almost] 240 million years older than the previous record. This is, so far, the oldest record of terrestrial fungi.”