Ancient flesh-eating fungus found in 100-million-year-old amber

December 14th, 2007 - 2:51 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, December 14 (ANI): German scientists have found an ancient flesh-eating fungus that preyed on tiny animals, trapped in a hundred-million-year-old lump of amber obtained from a quarry in South-western France.

Alexander Schmidt of the Berlin Museum of Natural History, who led the work, has revealed that the amber also contained worms called nematodes, which the fungus snared in sticky loops before devouring them.

The researcher believes that the unlikely fossil predator from the dinosaur era might represent the oldest known carnivorous fungus.

Carnivorous fungi exploit constricting rings, adhesive knobs, and similar projections to catch prey. However, it is yet unknown when did such devices evolve.

According to Schmidt, the new find indicates that carnivorous fungi had already developed complex trapping devices by the early Cretaceous period, which began 145 million years ago.

Reporting their finding in the journal Science, the researchers said that the study sample contained various bugs and other organisms that indicated that the amber had solidified in soil, where carnivorous fungi live.

According to the report, the fossil fungus had branched projections, known as hyphae, that are equipped with small rings.

The researchers said that those rings were coated with tiny particles that suggested that they produced a sticky secretion used to trap several nematodes that were preserved close to them.

They also said that the diameter of the microscopic worms matched that of the fungus’ rings.

“Because their maximum diameter falls within the width range of the rings, these animals can be identified as potential prey of the fungus,” National Geographic News quoted the authors as writing.

“Once trapped, the nematodes were probably penetrated and digested by infestation hyphae,” they added.

The authors, however, admitted that “the fossils cannot be assigned to any recent carnivorous fungus” despite the fact that the rigs resembled those found in modern trapping fungi.

This indicates that various groups thrived in the age of the dinosaurs, “and that trapping devices were developed independently multiple times in the course of Earth history,” they noted.

Germany-based nematode-eating fungi expert Philip Jacobs hailed this study. He said that the fossil fungus also showed evidence of buds called blastospores, which are not seen in modern nematode-preying species.

He said, while none of the nematodes were seen actually inside the trapping rings, “it seems very probable that (the rings) were indeed capturing organs.”

George L. Barron of the Department of Environmental Biology at the University of Guelph in Canada is, however, skeptical of the amber findings.

“The presence of nematodes could be coincidental and nothing to do with predation. Nematodes are commonly found mixed up within organic debris with nonpredatory fungal hyphae,” Barron said in an email.

While he appreciated that the rings of the fungus “are nicely shaped, and it is very tempting to suggest their function as primitive trapping devices,” he said that such features represented “a giant step on the evolutionary scale.”

“Someday someone might find the definitive proof in amber, showing a nematode captured in a ring, or a nematode by itself with a ring encircling its body,” he added. (ANI)

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