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Sci Adv. 2020 Jan 22;6(4):eaax7599. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aax7599. eCollection 2020 Jan.

Molecular identification of fungi microfossils in a Neoproterozoic shale rock.

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Biogéochimie et Modélisation du Système Terre, Département Géosciences, Environnement et Société, Université Libre de Bruxelles, 50 Av. F. D. Roosevelt, 1050 Brussels, Belgium.
Illinois State Geological Survey, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 615 E. Peabody Dr., Champaign, IL 61820, USA.
Center for Microscopy and Molecular Imaging, Université Libre de Bruxelles, 12 rue des professeurs Jeener et Brachet, Charleroi 6041, Belgium.
Diamond Light Source, Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, Didcot, Oxfordshire OX11 0DE, UK.
Geophysical Laboratory, Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1530 P St NW, Washington, DC 20005, USA.
German Research Centre for Geosciences, GFZ, Telegrafenberg, 14473 Potsdam, Germany.
Department of Earth Sciences, Free University of Berlin, 12249 Berlin, Germany.


Precambrian fossils of fungi are sparse, and the knowledge of their early evolution and the role they played in the colonization of land surface are limited. Here, we report the discovery of fungi fossils in a 810 to 715 million year old dolomitic shale from the Mbuji-Mayi Supergroup, Democratic Republic of Congo. Syngenetically preserved in a transitional, subaerially exposed paleoenvironment, these carbonaceous filaments of ~5 μm in width exhibit low-frequency septation (pseudosepta) and high-angle branching that can form dense interconnected mycelium-like structures. Using an array of microscopic (SEM, TEM, and confocal laser scanning fluorescence microscopy) and spectroscopic techniques (Raman, FTIR, and XANES), we demonstrated the presence of vestigial chitin in these fossil filaments and document the eukaryotic nature of their precursor. Based on those combined evidences, these fossil filaments and mycelium-like structures are identified as remnants of fungal networks and represent the oldest, molecularly identified remains of Fungi.

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