Scientists Find Oldest Fossil Mushroom
A team of scientists from the University of Illinois has uncovered the world's oldest fossil mushroom. Lead author Sam Heads and his colleagues dubbed the specimen Gondwanagaricites magnificus, naming it for the ancient supercontinent Gondwana and the fossil's "magnificent" preservation.
Estimated at between 113 and 120 million years old, G. magnificus is at least 14 million years older than the prior record-holder, but it stands out for more than just its age. Just ten fossils resembling modern-day gilled mushrooms have been unearthed, all from amber. The soft, fleshy bodies of mushrooms simply don't fossilize well, and amber, composed of ancient tree resin, has been the only reliable medium of preservation. G. magnificus, however, is the first and only fossil mushroom found in a mineral layer.
The amazing sedimentary deposit that broke the trend is known as Lagerstatten. In this case, the Lagerstatten layer was composed of laminated limestone from the Crato Formation in northeastern Brazil. In the past, Crato has yielded dinosaurs, pterosaurs, amphibians, and even a variety of fish species with the contents of their stomachs preserved.
The mushroom's stalk, or stipe, measured roughly 34 millimeters tall and 6.5 millimeters wide. Its cap, known as a pileus, featured the spore-dispersing gills that characterize the most familiar mushrooms (pictured below). The researchers are unsure of G. magnificus' color.
Basidiomycota, the division of fungi that includes a number of alien-looking specimens, including all mushrooms, dates back between 500 million and 1.2 billion years. There are undoubtedly many more fascinating finds yet to be made!
Source: Heads SW, Miller AN, Crane JL, Thomas MJ, Ruffatto DM, Methven AS, et al. (2017) The oldest fossil mushroom. PLoS ONE 12(6): e0178327. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0178327