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Prehistoric Mushroom

June 12, 2017

Paleontologists find the world’s oldest mushroom fossil.

Transcript

The world's oldest fossil mushroom was preserved in limestone, an extraordinarily rare event, researchers say. Photo by Jared Thomas Drawing by Danielle Ruffatto

The world’s oldest fossil mushroom was preserved in limestone, an extraordinarily rare event. (Photo by Jared Thomas/Drawing by Danielle Ruffatto)

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Mushrooms of the dinosaurs. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

115 million years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, a two-inch tall mushroom toppled over and fell into a salty lagoon. The delicate fungi was preserved in the brine while minerals slowly replaced its tissue. It survived the breakup of the supercontinent Gondwana and eventually wound up at the University of Illinois, in the lab of astonished paleontologist Samuel Heads.

SAMUEL HEADS:

Mushrooms are very ephemeral: they pop up and then they’re gone within a day or two. They decay very rapidly after they die, so finding a fossil mushroom is extremely, extremely rare.

HIRSHON:

Fungi are one of the six kingdoms of life, and this find, reported in the journal PLOS ONE, helps scientists begin to fill in one of the more fragmentary chapters in the evolution of life on earth. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Bob Hirshon