Experts date the transition of aquatic organisms to dry land somewhere between 450 and 500 million years ago. Before plants and animals could take hold, there needed to be nutrients and soil to support them. Fungi are thought to have provided the necessary conditions.
Martin Smith, now at Durham University in the United Kingdom, reports on work he performed while at the University of Cambridge on the identification of the oldest fossil of a land organism, a fungus called Tortotubus protuberans, dating from the Silurean period of the Paleozoic era, about 440 million years ago. The work has been published in the Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society. The morphological characteristics and growth pattern indicate the existence of differentiated mycelium, reminiscent of those of higher fungi (Dykaria), although he did not find evidence of the existence of fruiting bodies.
Before Tortotubus or its ancestors colonized dry land, other simple organisms -probably bacteria and algae, of which there rarely is a fossil record- must have done so. They, would have provided food for this fungus, who in turn produced nitrogen and oxygen in the rudimentary soil.
This grandfather of fungi on dry land, smaller than the width of a human hair, was all over the news yesterday. Some of the coverage was in BBC News, Ars Technica, ABC News, Newsweek, Sci News, Voice of America... Not bad for a little fungus! And they say old is not beautiful...