A research team found that they have excavated fossilized fungi dating back one billion years ago. Researchers announced last Wednesday in an attempt to inform the world about the oldest fungi discovered in Canada. The research finding is believed to change “our understanding of how life on land evolved.”
Age does matter
The recent study focuses not only on the characteristic of the newfound fungi but also in determining its age. A fungus is defined as a spore-producing organism: a single-celled or multicellular organism without chlorophyll that reproduces by spores and lives by absorbing nutrients from organic matter.
How this finding reshapes the human understanding of life on Earth?
At the beginning of our secondary education, we are taught that for decades, the earliest known fungi organisms such as mushrooms, mold, and yeast – were believed to have appeared on earth about half a billion years ago.
But this idea was disproved by the latest fossil specimens that were found in Canada — insisting that the fungi kingdom arrived earlier. The said specimens were analyzed and reviewed using the most advanced technology that these researchers claim to have.
One of their significant findings, as mentioned in the published Journal Nature, found the presence of ‘Chitin’ which is a protective outer covering that forms on fungal cell walls. This means that if Chitin is manifest on the fungi itself, then it is a complete affirmation that the said fungus is not a hoax.
And to further determine the age of the fungi, scientists also examined the age of the rock the fossils were found in by its ratio of radioactive elements.
Corentin Loron, a Ph.D. student together with other scholars from the University of Liege, in Belgium, investigated the microfossils to ascertain the chemical composition of their cells. As a result, they found out that the microfossils were between 900 million and one billion years old. This can be the oldest fungi ever found in history; older than the earliest recognized mushrooms in the world.
So what is the significant impact of these findings to humans as a whole?
The findings are significant because, in the tree of life, the fungi, together with animals and plants, are under the same group called Eukaryotes. A eukaryote is an organism with one or more cells that have visible nuclei and organelles. Examples of this type are all living and fossil cellular organisms except bacteria and cyanobacteria. Therefore, if fungi are present at about 900-1000 million years ago, then other animals or plants should have been too, Loron said.
Loron also added that this type of discovery, is again, reshaping our vision of the world because those groups are still present today. Thus, this distant past and known history, although very different from today, may have been much more ‘modern’ or ‘advanced’ than we previously thought.
Currently, fungi are one of the most plenty of organisms on the planet. They are the third most significant contributor to global biomass after plants and bacteria. And it is also believed that fungi are six times heavier than the mass of all animals combined — including humans.
In a much broader aspect, in the world of science, it is inevitable that discovery may come up that can disprove or support the claim of past studies. Just like the newfound fungi in Canada, it somehow questioned the already established knowledge and fact on the existence of earliest known fungi — as embedded in our textbooks and other learning tools. It just shows the other side of humans; our hunger for knowledge and a never-ending quest for truth.
We cannot also deny the fact that technology prevails in almost every aspect of our lives, and contributes a lot in the field of science. It is the main factor as to why specific discovery such as this happened. And it has played a significant role or part in determining the age of newfound fungi, defining its characteristics, and identifying specific substances that surround it.
But what Loron and his colleagues wanted to achieve is to make us rethink about life and redefine it. We never knew what lies there way back 900 and one billion years ago. Is there a chance that the earliest animals or plants were alive in that specific era? What is life before the creation of the earth, or is it earth first then life? Think about it.