Not “Ancient”. Still Cool.

 This commentary appeared in Nature  recently. Title:  Ancient Fungi Found in Deep Sea Mud. Quote:

Researchers have found evidence of fungi thriving far below the floor of the Pacific Ocean, in nutrient-starved sediments more than 100 million years old….To follow up on earlier reports of deep-sea fungi, Reese and her colleagues studied sediments pulled up from as deep as 127 metres below the sea floor during an expedition of the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program in the South Pacific in 2010. They searched the samples for fungal genetic material and found sequences from at least eight groups. The team succeeded in growing cultures of four of the fungi.

Really cool. Fungi from 127 meters below the sea floor. We can learn a lot from studying fungi from such harsh conditions, about how multicellular eukaryotic life  manages to survive — and apparently thrive– even in the most inhospitable environments.  But contrary to what the title suggests,  living below the ocean floor does not make those fungi any more “ancient” than the fungi living in my back yard. Both the fungi in my back yard, and those found by Brandi Reese and her colleagues in the ocean , evolved from a common ancestor, which presumably lived as far back as  1.4 x 109 years ago. None of the current living organisms are “ancient”,  because, by definition, they live today.  All of today’s organisms have ancestral lines stretching into the past, and all have been subjected to natural selection. Granted, it is much harder to survive and thrive 127 meters below the bottom of the ocean than in my back yard, but that does not make the species living beneath the ocean floor ancient. It makes  adapted to a harsh environment which is oxygen, energy,  and nutrient poor. This, by itself, is quite exciting and interesting.


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