Earliest Fossil Evidence of Land-Based Fungi May Hold Clues to a Mystery of Evolution
Scientists have uncovered what they believe to be the earliest evidence of fungus on land.
The evidence for this early fungus consists of a microfossil, found in a cave in southern China, that dates from about 635 million years ago, Live Science reported. The discovery isn't just record breaking; it could also reveal important information about the evolution of life on Earth.
"The question used to be: 'Were there fungi in the terrestrial realm before the rise of terrestrial plants'," study coauthor and Virginia Tech geosciences professor Shuhai Xiao told Virginia Tech Daily. "And I think our study suggests yes. Our fungus-like fossil is 240 million years older than the previous record. This is, thus far, the oldest record of terrestrial fungi."
The finding was published Jan. 28 in Nature Communications by researchers from Virginia Tech, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Guizhou Education University, and the University of Cincinnati.
The fossil's age may help scientists answer an important question: how did the Earth emerge from a brutal ice age known as "snowball Earth."
Want to read about a 635 MILLION year old fungi-like fossil that may have brought us out of the Ice Age? Of course… https://t.co/Gu77WltecQ— Virginia Tech Science (@Virginia Tech Science)1611936979.0
The fossil dates from the Ediacaran period, which took place between 635 to 541 million years ago, Live Science explained. During that period, Earth was recovering from an ice age that froze ocean surfaces more than a kilometer (approximately 0.6 miles) deep, Virginia Tech Daily explained. It was a very hard time for all but microscopic life, and scientists have long wondered how more complex life was able to recover and thrive.
Now, they think fungi may have played a role. That's because fungus breaks down minerals and organic matter and returns them to the ocean and atmosphere, Live Science explained. If the fossils found in China indicate a widespread phenomenon, it could mean that terrestrial fungi helped create a new geochemistry that pumped more oxygen into the air and triggered the evolution of life, the report authors wrote.
"Fungi have a mutualistic relationship with the roots of plants, which helps them mobilize minerals, such as phosphorus. Because of their connection to terrestrial plants and important nutritional cycles, terrestrial fungi have a driving influence on biochemical weathering, the global biogeochemical cycle, and ecological interactions," study coauthor and visiting Ph.D. student in Xiao's lab Tian Gan explained to Virginia Tech Daily.
The fossils were not easy to find. Microfossils are not visible to the naked eye, and researchers had to locate threadlike filaments about one-tenth of the width of a human hair, Live Science explained. To do this, they collected sedimentary rocks from China's Doushantuo Formation in Guizhou Province. They then ground the rock into slices no more than 0.002 inches thick and searched for fossils under a powerful microscope.
Xiao told Live Science that experience helps the scientists pick which rocks to search.
"But it's not error-proof; most times, we slice a rock, and we don't find anything," Xiao said. "There's maybe a 10% success rate."
Their discovery was extra lucky, because they had not been looking specifically for the earliest-ever evidence of land-based fungi.
"It was an accidental discovery," Gan told Virginia Tech Daily. "At that moment, we realized that this could be the fossil that scientists have been looking for a long time."
The researchers are also not 100 percent sure that the markings in the fossils belong to fungi.
"We would like to leave things open for other possibilities, as a part of our scientific inquiry," Xiao told Virginia Tech Daily. "The best way to put it is that perhaps we have not disapproved that they are fungi, but they are the best interpretation that we have at the moment."
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Wisdom the mōlī, or Laysan albatross, is the oldest wild bird known to science at the age of at least 70. She is also, as of February 1, a new mother.
<div id="dadb2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="aa2ad8cb566c9b4b6d2df2693669f6f9"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1357796504740761602" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🚨Cute baby alert! Wisdom's chick has hatched!!! 🐣😍 Wisdom, a mōlī (Laysan albatross) and world’s oldest known, ban… https://t.co/Nco050ztBA</div> — USFWS Pacific Region (@USFWS Pacific Region)<a href="https://twitter.com/USFWSPacific/statuses/1357796504740761602">1612558888.0</a></blockquote></div>
By Hui Hu
Winter is supposed to be the best season for wind power – the winds are stronger, and since air density increases as the temperature drops, more force is pushing on the blades. But winter also comes with a problem: freezing weather.
Comparing rime ice and glaze ice shows how each changes the texture of the blade. Gao, Liu and Hu, 2021, CC BY-ND
Ice buildup changes air flow around the turbine blade, which can slow it down. The top photos show ice forming after 10 minutes at different temperatures in the Wind Research Tunnel. The lower measurements show airflow separation as ice accumulates. Icing Research Tunnel of Iowa State University, CC BY-ND
While traditional investment in the ocean technology sector has been tentative, growth in Israeli maritime innovations has been exponential in the last few years, and environmental concern has come to the forefront.
theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
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