News / Science & Technology

    Wondrous Fungus: Fossils are Oldest of Any Land-dwelling Organism

    The filament of Tortotubus from the Silurian of Gotland, Sweden, showing the envelope of secondary filaments covering the main filament and primary branches and developing a distinctive pustular ornament, is shown in this image released March 2, 2016.
    The filament of Tortotubus from the Silurian of Gotland, Sweden, showing the envelope of secondary filaments covering the main filament and primary branches and developing a distinctive pustular ornament, is shown in this image released March 2, 2016.
    Reuters

    At first glance, they do not look like much: tiny fragments of a primordial fungus shorter than a single hair's width. But these fungal remnants possess the unique distinction of being the oldest-known fossils of any land-dwelling organism on Earth.

    A study published Wednesday described microfossils of a subterranean fungus called Tortotubus that was an early landlubber at a time when life was largely confined to the seas, including samples from Libya and Chad that were 440 million to 445 million years old.

    The fossils represented the root-like filaments that fungi use to extract nutrients from soil. Tortotubus possessed a cordlike structure similar to some modern fungi. It was unclear whether it produced mushrooms.

    Tortotubus helped set the stage for complex land plants and later animals by triggering the process of rot and soil formation.

    Three filaments of Tortotubus from Gotland, Sweden, showing the growth of secondary branches along the main filament, is shown in this image released March 2, 2016.Three filaments of Tortotubus from Gotland, Sweden, showing the growth of secondary branches along the main filament, is shown in this image released March 2, 2016.
    x
    Three filaments of Tortotubus from Gotland, Sweden, showing the growth of secondary branches along the main filament, is shown in this image released March 2, 2016.
    Three filaments of Tortotubus from Gotland, Sweden, showing the growth of secondary branches along the main filament, is shown in this image released March 2, 2016.

    "By building up deeper, richer, more stable soils, Tortotubus would have paved the way for larger, more complex green plants to quite literally take root, in turn providing a food source for animals and allowing the escalation of terrestrial ecosystems," said paleontologist Martin Smith of Britain's Durham University, who conducted the research while at the University of Cambridge.

    Humble beginnings

    These fossils, also discovered in other places including Sweden, Scotland and New York state, reflect the humble beginnings of life on the land.

    While the primeval oceans were teeming with life including jawless fish, arthropods, squid relatives, jellyfish and more, the land was barren and void.

    To survive on land, organisms had to be able to tolerate desiccation, ultraviolet light exposure and limited nutrients.

    Tortotubus may not have been the very first land pioneer, but no fossils have been found of earlier terrestrial organisms.

    "By the time Tortotubus went extinct, the first trees and forests had come into existence," Smith said. "This humble subterranean fungus steadfastly performed its rotting and recycling service for some 70 million years, as life on land transformed from simple crusty green films to a rich ecosystem that wouldn't look out of place in a tropical greenhouse today."

    Smith studied fossil filaments so small that thousands would fit on the head of a pin. The filaments would have gone through the ground in search of food in the form of dead organic matter.

    The original, non-fragmented organism could have been a fungal network measuring yards (meters) across, Smith said.

    The research was published in the Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society.

    You May Like

    Video Democrats Clinton, Kaine Offer 'Very Different Vision' Than Trump

    In a jab at Trump, Clinton says her team wants to 'build bridges, not walls'; Obama Hails Kaine's record; Trump calls Kaine a 'job-killer'

    Turkey Wants Pakistan to Close Down institutions, Businesses Linked to Gulen

    Thousands of Pakistani students are enrolled in Gulen's commercial network of around two dozen institutions operating in Pakistan for over two decades

    AU Passport A Work in Progress

    Who will get the passport and what the benefits are still need to be worked out

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora