You’ve got to love mushrooms. They’re good to eat (well, most of them), they have psychedelic and healing powers, they come in a wide array of beautiful shapes and colors, they play a part in many folklore tales … we could go on and on about ‘shrooms. And now, there’s another great reason to love them – a new study finds that mushrooms are 300 million years older than first thought, dating back 810 million years to a time when they joined the first plants as the only living things on the dry surface of Earth. Yes, this is indeed a “This changes everything!” moment, brought to you by your favorite fungi – mushrooms.
“This is a major discovery, and one that prompts us to reconsider our timeline of the evolution of organisms on Earth.”
In a study led by Steeve Bonneville, professor at the Université libre de Bruxelles (a French-speaking private research university in Brussels, Belgium), researchers found fossilized remains of mycelium – microscopic strands of fungi -- in ancient rocks from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. These 715 and 810 million-year-old rocks were at the Africa Museum in Tervuren, Belgium and had been determined to have been from a lagoon or coastal lake. The age and location makes these fungi-filled rocks historically special to Bonneville.
“The presence of fungi in this transitional area between water and land leads us to believe that these microscopic mushrooms were important partners of the first plants that colonized the Earth's surface around 500 million years ago.”
Using non-destructive microscopic molecular analysis techniques such as synchrotron radiation spectroscopy, μ-Raman confocal microscopy, fluorescence microscopy and electron microscopy, Bonneville and his colleagues were able to study the organic remains in the rocks without damaging them. This allowed them to find traces of chitin, a very tough compound found in the cell walls of fungi, and determine that the cells had a nucleus, making them eukaryotic organisms … and the world’s oldest mushrooms.
We know what you’re thinking … are these the first magic mushrooms? Did the researchers eat them and experience 800-million-year-old visions? There’s nothing in the press release or the study, published in Science Advances, that would suggest they tried this, let alone even considered it. For that, you’ll have to visit the Democratic Republic of the Congo and find your own 800 million-year-old fungi-filled rocks to lick.
Now THAT would change everything.