Early fungi played vital role in evolution of flowering plant

The ancient fungi had first confused researchers as what was first thought as different organisms have now been confirmed to be various stages of the same organism.

Craig Hall | May 03, 2016

Fossils of an ancient fungus dating back to over 440 million years ago have been found. This is probably one of the first animals to live on land as at this time most organisms still existed in the sea. The organism laid the ground for soil formation which was vital for evolution to higher plants.

It has structures very similar to the modern fungi, showing that it has undergone very little evolution over the millenniums. However, its structures are ideal for breaking rocks to pebbles and eventually to soil. It also catalyzes the decay of dead matter to humus.

The ancient fungi had first confused researchers as what was first thought as different organisms have now been confirmed to be various stages of the same organism. This goes in some way in explaining why the fungus was so resilient throughout history.

"What we see in this fossil is complex fungal 'behavior' in some of the earliest terrestrial ecosystems - contributing to soil formation and kick-starting the process of rotting on land," said Smith, head scientist in the research. "Those two ends of the spectrum looked very different. It was like having stills from the beginning and the end of a movie. And when he did, he showed that the fossils represented an organism that grew mycelium long, root-like filaments that fungi use to extract and transport nutrients."

Scientists believe the process of soil formation and rot was essential for the evolution of higher plants, This, in essence, it is what holds the complex plants to the ground, unlike the fungi which anchored on the rocky terrain.

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