350 Million Year Old 20ft Fungi Tree: First Macrofauna?
Prototaxites, a giant, prehistoric fossil, originally thought to be a conifer, is uncovered in Saudi Arabia in an undated photo. A chemical analysis has shown that the 20-foot-tall organism with a tree-like trunk was a fungus that became extinct more than 350 million years ago, according to a study appearing in the May issue of the journal Geology.
Credit: Reuters/University of Chicago/Handout
(Reuters) – Scientists have identified the Godzilla of fungi, a giant, prehistoric fossil that has evaded classification for more than a century, U.S. researchers said on Monday.
A chemical analysis has shown that the 20-foot-tall (6-metre) organism with a tree-like trunk was a fungus that became extinct more than 350 million years ago, according to a study appearing in the May issue of the journal Geology.
Known as Prototaxites, the giant fungus originally was thought to be a conifer. Then some believed it was a lichen, or various types of algae. Some suspected it was a fungus.
“A 20-foot-fungus doesn’t make any sense. Neither does a 20-foot-tall algae make any sense, but here’s the fossil,” C. Kevin Boyce, a University of Chicago assistant professor of geophysical sciences, said in a statement.
Francis Hueber of the National Museum of Natural History first suggested the fungus possibility based on an analysis of the fossil’s internal structure, but had no conclusive proof.
Boyce and colleagues filled in the blanks, comparing the types of carbon found in the giant fossil with plants that lived about the same time, about 400 million years ago.
If Prototaxites were a plant, its carbon structures would resemble similar plants. Instead, Boyce found a much greater diversity in carbon content than would have been expected of a plant.
Fungi, which include yeast, mold and mushrooms, represent their own kingdom, neither plant nor animal. Once classified as plants, they are now considered a closer cousin to animals but they absorb rather than eat their food.
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