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635 million-year-old fossil is the oldest known land fungus

Its tiny tendrils are 1/10 the width of a human hair.

The oldest evidence of land fungus may be a wee microfossil that’s 635 million years old, found in a cave in southern China.

Too small to be seen with the naked eye, this remarkable find pushes back the appearance of terrestrial fungus by about 240 million years to a period known as “snowball Earth” when the planet was locked in ice from 750 million to 580 million years ago.

The presence of land fungus at this critical point may have helped Earth to transition from a frozen ice ball to a planet with a variety of ecosystems that could host diverse life-forms, scientists wrote in a new study. By breaking down minerals and organic matter and recycling nutrients into the atmosphere and ocean, ancient fungus could have played an important part in reshaping Earth’s geochemistry, creating more hospitable conditions that paved the way for terrestrial plants and animals to eventually emerge and thrive.

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