News / Science & Technology

    Prehistoric Amber Reveals Natural Ancient Alliance

    Offers proof of ages-old bond between fungi, flowering trees

    This 52-million-year-old piece of petrified tree sap was found in India’s Gujarat state.
    This 52-million-year-old piece of petrified tree sap was found in India’s Gujarat state.

    Multimedia

    Audio

    Scientists say a piece of amber - recently found in India and dating back at least 52 million years - offers proof of the ancient relationship between fungi and flowering trees, which sustains modern forests.



    The walnut-sized discovery is the first evidence that this relationship existed so long ago.

    India’s Gujarat state was once the site of a tropical rainforest. It's where Paul Nascimbene's team found the eight-millimeter-long shard of amber, or petrified tree sap.

    Paul Nascimbene holds up ancient amber found in India.
    Paul Nascimbene holds up ancient amber found in India.

    Nascimbene, a paleozoologist with the American Museum of Natural History in New York, says a tiny mass of mycorrhizal fungus and bits of tree root are visible inside the amber.

    Together, they speak across the eons about one of the most abiding and important plant relationships on Earth.   

    “When plants colonized the land - because initially they were aquatic, in the oceans - this partnership, or symbiosis, began between the mycorrhizae and pretty much 90 percent of all land plants," Nascimbene says. "And then there were different types of these partnerships that occurred.” 

    According to Nascimbene, there are two types of mycorrhizal symbiosis. In endomycorrhizae, the most common form, the fungi live symbiotically within the roots of a tree.

    Paul Nascimbene and Hukam Singh collecting amber at the Tadkeshwar Mine in India.
    Paul Nascimbene and Hukam Singh collecting amber at the Tadkeshwar Mine in India.

    In ectomycorrhizae, the fungi live on the roots of their partner trees. This is the type that Nascimbene's team discovered entwined with roots and mixed with flowers inside the Indian amber.

    “The one that we found, in a 52 million-year-old tropical rainforest biota, was perhaps the earliest record of such a symbiosis with a flowering plant, a modern flowering plant," Nascimbene says.

    That mycorrhyzal symbiosis has endured because it is important to the survival of both organisms - the fungus and the tree.

    Scanning electron micrograph of fossil ectomycorrhiza which leached out of the amber fragment.
    Scanning electron micrograph of fossil ectomycorrhiza which leached out of the amber fragment.

    “Both organisms benefit because, in one sense, the surface area of the root is increased," Nascimbene says. "But also the fungus has the ability to leach important nutrients out of the soil. And that helps support the growth of the trees.  Also, they are protected for some extent from drought… Essentially, when you have the roots surrounded by the various stages of this fungus, you have a network which essentially creates a sort of microenvironment; the water doesn’t evaporate or dissipate from it as readily as [from] bare roots.”

    The tree that produced the amber at the Gujarat fossil site was a dipterocarp, which is still the dominant family of hardwood trees in Southeast Asia.  Although they are logged heavily, dipterocarp forests are thriving thanks largely to the mycorrhizal fungi.  

    And that, says Nascimbene, carries an important lesson for the global environment.  

    “There are a lot of people now on the planet, and there are a limited number of resources. So in order to plant and grow more trees, we have to be aware of the conditions that favor their growth. And in the case of the dipterocarps, these ectomycorrhizas are added to the soil in association with their roots when they are planted in order to allow the forest to develop properly. Otherwise as both a business - and as an ecology - it would fail.”

    Nascimbene and his colleagues plan to continue digging for prehistoric mycorrhizae, and for further clues to the origins of the world’s forests.

    You May Like

    Turkey, US Splits Deepen Over Support for Kurdish Militants

    Ankara summons American ambassador to protest remarks by State Department spokesman who said Washington does not consider Syria's Kurdish Democracy Union Party (PYD) a terrorist organization

    Obama Seeking $19 Billion for National Cybersecurity

    Move, touted as attempt to build broad, cohesive federal response to cyberthreats, calls for increase in cybersecurity spending across all government agencies

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire, who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clownsi
    X
    February 09, 2016 8:04 PM
    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay Prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Middle East Affairs and national security.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.