Early fossils found in rocks and soil on Earth may just be ‘chemical gardens’2 min read

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For many years, fungi were grouped with, or mistaken for plants. 

Not until 1969 were they officially granted their own ‘kingdom’, alongside animals and plants, though their distinct characteristics had been recognised long before that.

Yeast, mildew and molds are all fungi, as are many forms of large, mushroom-looking organisms that grow in moist forest environments and absorb nutrients from dead or living organic matter. 

Unlike plants, fungi do not photosynthesise, and their cell walls are devoid of cellulose.

Geologists studying lava samples taken from a drill site in South Africa discovered fossilised gas bubbles 800 metres (2,600 feet) underground.

In April 2017, they revealed that they are believed to contain the oldest fungi ever found.

Researchers were examining samples taken from drill-holes of rocks buried deep underground, when they found the 2.4 billion-year-old microscopic creatures. 

They are believed to be the oldest fungi ever found by around 1.2 billion years.

Earth itself is about 4.6 billion years old.

They could be the earliest evidence of eukaryotes – the ‘superkingdom’ of life that includes plants, animals and fungi, but not bacteria.

The previous earliest examples of eukaryotes – the ‘superkingdom’ of life that includes plants, animals and fungi, but not bacteria – dates to 1.9 billion years ago. That makes this sample 500 million years older.

It was believed that fungi first emerged on land, but the newly-found organisms lived and thrived under an ancient ocean seabed.

And the dating of the find suggests that not only did these fungus-like creatures live in a dark and cavernous world devoid of light, but they also lacked oxygen.

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