Scientists in China may have stumbled upon the oldest land fossil ever, believed to be about 635 million years old. Found in a cave in Southern China, the international team of scientists said the shape and features of this organism relate to that of a fungus – a claim that is yet to undergo peer-review.
The organism is said to have contributed massively to the transformation of the planet from a giant snowball of ice to one that could host living things on land. In fact, these fungi were the first form of life to inhabit the earth, just as the ice in it finally thawed. The event supports theories laid out over the years that fungi left the ocean to begin a new life on land. This phenomenon helped the earth support life on land, fast-tracking the recovery of the planet from the devastating ice age.
Scientists have had a hard time studying the evolution of fungi. With no bones or shells to help in their research, it remained a mystery within the scientific community how these life forms came about. Today’s fungi could be traced to their ancestors that lived a billion years ago. Yet, scientists were only able to pull up fossil records from about 600 million years ago, with no evidence of what may have happened prior to that, Livescience reports.
In 2019, scientists were able to trace a fungi fossil found in Canada to a billion years ago, establishing the fact that fungi existed and have been around than plants. Last year, another fungi fossil was found in the Democratic Republic of Congo that could be traced back to between 810 and 715 million years ago.
Meanwhile, there have been debates on whether these organisms are truly fungi or not. With the recent discovery in China, a similar controversy is sure to be stirred up. However, the researchers behind the study are insisting the organism bore exact semblance with a eukaryote and was probably a fungus.
Shuhai Xiao from Virginia Tech College of Science said the verdict was not final, and he, alongside his colleagues, was still open to further interpretation and possibilities. According to Xiao, the recent discovery may be a temporal positive answer to the question by scientists on whether fungi predated plants on land. Another question might be how these fungi survived since modern-day fungi depend on plants to go on living.
Notwithstanding, it can be said that fungi played critical roles in the formation of our planet. They helped accelerated the chemical weathering of rocks and kickstarting spontaneous biological activities in our aquatic environment that spurred the growth of our planet. The same can be said of their influence on the land, where they helped make the soil fertile enough for plants to grow.
The fungi, found in the Doushantuo Formation in South China, were active players in helping our planet move away from an ice ball to one that enabled diverse life forms to survive on earth.