Earth’s oldest fungal fossil found stuck in Arctic Ocean
A graduate student at the University of Liege in Belgium and colleagues, discovered microscopic tiny fossils stuck in mudrock in the south of Victoria Island on the Arctic Ocean. The fungus that is likely to have accumulated over millions of years in a river or lake and was formed between 900 million and one billion years ago, says a report.
Going by the study material submitted by Corentin Loron, the fossils were discovered by dissolving the minerals that contained them with acid and identified the ancient organism as Ourasphaira giraldae. Spores of the fungus are less than a tenth of a millimetre long and connect to one another by slender, branching filaments.
Reports reveal that the well-preserved fossils have distinct features of the fungus including its spherical spores, the branching filaments that connect the spores and their twin-layered cell walls. The discovery opens a rare window in which the fossils still carry traces of the organic compound used to make fungal cell wall called chitin. It was trapped in solidified mud which prevented oxygen from seeping in and decomposing the fungi.
The investigating team travelled to the site to by helicopter as the rocks there formed without exposure to high temperature and pressures and the fossils were preserved deep within.
The author of the study said, “We are not talking about anything big like dinosaurs. But if this is really fungi, then there should be animals around too. May be something simple or perhaps a sponge.”
It may be noted that fungi play a vital role in decomposing organic matter, ecosystems and nurturing the soil by returning nutrients and help plants grow.