400 Million-Year-Old Fossil Reveals Oldest Evidence Of Fungal Disease

Researchers discover a 407-million-year-old fossilized fungus, named Potteromyces asteroxylicola, in the Rhynie Chert.

400 Million-Year-Old Fossil Reveals Oldest Evidence Of Fungal Disease

Potteromyces asteroxylicola is 407 million years old.

Hidden within the Natural History Museum of London's collection, researchers stumbled upon a treasure: a 407-million-year-old fossilized fungus, the oldest evidence of a disease-causing fungus ever found. Named Potteromyces asteroxylicola, after the renowned mycologist Beatrix Potter, this ancient microbe sheds light on the early history of disease and the crucial role fungi played in shaping life on Earth.

The study titled "A fungal plant pathogen discovered in the Devonian Rhynie Chert" has been published in the journal Nature Communications.

As per a release by the Natural History Museum, Mr Beatrix's drawings and study of the growth of fungi, which were in some cases decades ahead of scientific research, have garnered her a reputation as a significant figure in mycology. Potteromyces was discovered in fossil samples from the Rhynie Chert, a crucial geological site in Scotland. The site is known for a remarkably preserved Early Devonian community of plants and animals, including bacteria and fungi.

The new study, completed in collaboration with mycologists at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, suggests that disease-causing fungi, such as ash die-back currently decimating the UK's native ash trees, and fungi that can circulate nutrients that plants and other organisms depend on to survive, have a historical precedent in Potteromyces.

"Although other fungal parasites have been found in this area before, this is the first case of one causing disease in a plant. What's more, Potteromyces can provide a valuable point from which to date the evolution of different fungus groups, such as Ascomycota, the largest fungal phylum," said Dr Christine Strullu-Derrien, Scientific Associate at the Natural History Museum and lead author of the study.

"Naming this important species after Beatrix Potter seems a fitting tribute to her remarkable work and commitment to piecing together the secrets of fungi."