New work by researchers from Belgium, Germany and the United States shows that the first mushrooms appeared on Earth between 715 and 810 million years ago. This is about 300 million years earlier than previously thought. The article of scientists was published in the journal Science Advances.
The origin and evolution of representatives of the kingdom of mushrooms is still mysterious and poorly understood. To date, scientists have been able to identify only 2% of the species of these organisms. Because of their structure, it turns out to be extremely difficult to find the fossil representatives of this kingdom and to distinguish them from other microorganisms. So far, the oldest confirmed fossil fungi have been around 460 million years old.
But now researchers from the University of Brussels, the Carnegie Institution and the Helmholtz Center in Potsdam have discovered a new fossil mushroom. It turned out to be the oldest specimen ever found, according to its molecular composition. Scientists have discovered the remains of its mycelium - mycelium - in rocks that are approximately 715 to 810 million years old. These ancient rocks were found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and date back to a period when life on Earth was still in its infancy.
These fossils were found in the transition zone between water and land. According to scientists, this fact means that fungi were important partners of the first plants when they first began to colonize the planet's surface 500 million years ago.
Previous fungal fossils have been identified only on the basis of the morphology of organic remains extracted from rocks. In doing so, the researchers used aggressive acids and acidic salts. This method damages the chemistry of organic fossils and allows only morphological analysis, which can be misinterpreted, because some morphological characteristics are common to different branches of living organisms.
The authors of the new work used other methods of analysis: spectroscopy with synchrotron radiation, confocal, fluorescence and electron microscopy. Using these methods, it was possible to study the chemistry of organic residues in situ, without chemical treatment. This allowed the researchers to find traces of chitin, a strong compound found in the cell walls of fungi. They also showed that the organisms were eukaryotes, meaning their cells had a nucleus.