Findings from the journal Science Advances catapult the possible emergence of Earth-dwelling fungi a further 300 million years into the past. According to researchers from the Université libre de Bruxelles, newly excavated fossils place the origins of fungal life between 715 and 810 million years ago.
Not only do these recently discovered remains add serious age to kingdom fungi, they also offer a potential explanation to an equally profound phenomenon: The migration of plants from the ocean to the land.
After detecting the presence of chitin — a complex carbohydrate produced by mushrooms — in ancient rocks found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, lead researcher Steeve Bonneville confirmed the presence of fungal filaments.
Known as hyphae, these strands form a mycelial matrix capable of secreting enzymes and externally digesting organic matter. Fungi harnessed this digestive mechanism to terrestrialize Earth, playing the role of a decomposing architect.
Bonneville stated, “The presence of fungi in this transitional area between water and land leads us to believe that these microscopic mushrooms were important partners of the first plants that colonized the Earth’s surface around 500 million years ago”.
Luke Sumpter is a freelance journalist that specializes in health, wellness, and alternative therapies. Currently, he’s working on a dissertation exploring the emerging role of the endocannabinoid system in orthopaedic medicine.