Researchers in the UK have announced the discovery of a 440-million-year-old fungus fossil that was likely one of the first organisms to ever dwell on land, and might have kick-started the process of rot, which transformed the landscape to support more complex life.
Though you have probably never sat down and thought about rot because, well, gross, it’s a vitally important process for life on our planet. We owe our ability to live to this process. Now, a team from the University of Cambridge believes they’ve found one of the first organisms responsible for it.
According to the team, nearly half a billion years ago, Tortotubus, an organism that resembles modern fungi, made its way to land and started decomposing materials that transformed Earth’s soil, which set the groundwork for more complex life such as plants and animals.
Though it’s hard for them to say that Tortotubus was, in fact, the very first land organism, the newly found fossil is the oldest ever found.
“During the period when this organism existed, life was almost entirely restricted to the oceans: nothing more complex than simple mossy and lichen-like plants had yet evolved on the land,” said one of the team, Martin Smith. “But before there could be flowering plants or trees, or the animals that depend on them, the processes of rot and soil formation needed to be established.” Source: At 440 million years old, this fungus is the earliest land-based life ever found