"Galerina marginata" by Eric Steinert / CC BY-SA 3.0

Billion-year-old fossils set back evolution of earliest fungi

May 23, 2019

By Heidi Ledford

Minute fossils pulled from remote Arctic Canada could push back the first known appearance of fungi to about one billion years ago — more than 500 million years earlier than scientists had expected.

These ur-fungi, described on 22 May in Nature1, are microscopic and surprisingly intricate, with filament-like structures. Chemical analyses suggest that the fossils contain chitin, a compound found in fungal cell walls.

If that analysis holds up, it could reshape understanding of how fungi evolved and whether they might have facilitated the movement of plants onto land. But some researchers are not yet convinced that the finding is truly a fungus. “It looks to me as if there’s reason for believing it’s real at this point,” says Mary Berbee, a mycologist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. “But more data would be really useful.”

Palaeobiologist Corentin Loron at the University of Liège, Belgium, and his colleagues found the fossils while exploring a region of Arctic Canada called the Grassy Bay Formation.

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