LIVING WITH IT WORKING WITH IT TREATING IT
A fungus that decomposes wood and which appeared nearly 300 million years ago might offer a partial explanation as to why vegetation-based coal formation stopped during this same period. This is one of the conclusions of a study by researchers from INRA, CNRS and the Universities of Lorraine and Aix-Marseille as part of an international consortium. The study provides insight into the wood degradation process by modern fungi, which could be of particular interest to the biofuels industry. The results were published in the 29 June 2012 issue of Science.
Prehistoric plants grown in state-of-the-art growth chambers recreating environmental conditions from more than 400 million years ago have shown scientists from the University of Sheffield how soil dwelling fungi played a crucial role in the evolution of plants.
PCR, DNA sequencing and the molecular revolution brought a whole new dynamic to paleomycology. Previously, it had only been possible to study the fungi of the past through spores deposited in sediments and permafrost soils, fossilized or petrified material associated with plant remains and gut contents, and those few unlucky fungi who found themselves covered in plant resins that eventually became amber. However, environmental DNA can be preserved for thousands of years under the right conditions, and the field of ancient DNA analysis has suddenly widened our ability to reconstruct past fungal communities.
The genus Prototaxites /ˌproʊtɵˈtæksɨtiːz/ describes terrestrial organisms known only from fossils dating from the Silurian and Devonian, approximately 420 to 370 million years ago. Prototaxites formed large trunk-like structures up to 1 metre (3 ft) wide, reaching 8 metres (26 ft) in height, made up of interwoven tubes just 50 micrometres (0.0020 in) in diameter. Whilst traditionally very difficult to assign to an extant group of organisms, current opinion is converging to a fungal placement for the genus. It might have had an algal symbiont, which would make it a lichen rather than a fungus in the strict sense.
An opposing view has been presented that Prototaxites was not a fungus but consisted of enrolled liverwort mats with associated cyanobacteria and fungal tubular elements.
Thomas N Taylor, University of Kansas, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Lawrence, KS USA
Michael Krings, Bayerische Staatssammlung fur Palaontologie und Geologie, Germany
Edith Taylor, University of Kansas, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Lawrence, KS USA
Fungi are ubiquitous in the world and responsible for driving the evolution and governing the sustainability of ecosystems now and in the past. Fossil Fungi is the first encyclopedic book devoted exclusively to fossil fungi and their activities through geologic time. The book begins with the historical context of research on fossil fungi (paleomycology), followed by how fungi are formed and studied as fossils, and their age. The next six chapters focus on the major lineages of fungi, arranging them in phylogenetic order and placing the fossils within a systematic framework. For each fossil the age and provenance are provided.
Each chapter provides a detailed introduction to the living members of the group and a discussion of the fossils that are believed to belong in this group. The extensive bibliography (~ 2700 entries) includes papers on both extant and fossil fungi. Additional chapters include lichens, fungal spores, and the interactions of fungi with plants, animals, and the geosphere. The final chapter includes a discussion of fossil bacteria and other organisms that are fungal-like in appearance, and known from the fossil record. The book includes more than 475 illustrations, almost all in color, of fossil fungi, line drawings, and portraits of people, as well as a glossary of more than 700 mycological and paleontological terms that will be useful to both biologists and geoscientists.
First Prototaxite identified
Millions of years prior to the production of hallucinogenic drugs, prehistoric dinosaurs munched on an ancient fungus that had psychedelic effects.
In the ancient times, man had to face not only the opposing forces of nature, wild animals and
poisonous organisms, but also diseases, misfortunes that seemed to arise from nowhere.
Thousands of years passed before the man began to acquire knowledge concerning the nature,
treatment, and prevention of the infectious diseases. Our early progenitors found it natural to
attribute the responsibility of the epidemics that they could not rule to a divine will that had
to be satisfied with prayers, rites and sacrifices. The difficulties of a rational approach to the
understanding of the etiology of infections is well reflected by the lack of any reference
known before the Hindu, Greek and Roman civilizations, when the related diseases were
described, however, exclusively on the basis of signs, symptoms and treatments [Ajello,