Researchers discover 2.4 billion years old fungus like fossil in South Africa
New Delhi : Researchers on Monday discovered 2.4 billion years old fungus-like fossils from rocks in South Africa. The fossils could represent the world's oldest fungus 2 billion years older than the next-oldest fungus specimen.
If the claims get some weight then scientists will be left with no option than to rething the timing of early evolution on Earth.
The fossil has been found from the basaltic rock in South Africa which were apparently formed due to lava flowing beneath the sea bed.
"The deep biosphere - where the fossils were found - represents a significant portion of the Earth, but we know very little about its biology and even less about its evolutionary history," lead researcher Stefan Bengtson, of the Swedish Museum of Natural History, told BBC News.
The new discovery looks similar to the younger fungi fossils which were found on dry land.
The fungi may have colonised cavities of rock deep beneath the sea floor.
Co-researcher, Magnus Ivarsson, said it would have been an extreme environment far away from sunlight.
"Fungi in this environment most probably lived in symbiosis with microbes utilising chemically stored energy for their metabolism," he said. "They may not even have needed free oxygen."
The research is published in Nature Ecology & Evolution.
As expected, some scientists differ with their words and raised concern over emergence of early life on Earth.
"[The discovery], if accurate, would be surprising as it would significantly precede fossil evidence and molecular clock analysis for the origin of eukaryotes, much less the origin of fungi," Andrew H. Knoll, a professor of natural history at Harvard University, told Seeker.
Bengtson acknowledges that the fossils could represent a simpler life form -- an extinct eukaryote lineage or giant prokaryote.
"This is why we call the fossils 'fungus-like' rather than 'fungal,'" Bengtson said. "We have been careful to point out that the filaments we see are very simple."