This week’s sciku is inspired by Virginia Tech researchers who discovered the oldest known terrestrial fossil. The fungal filaments found deep within dolostone rocks in Southern China might help explain an ancient mystery. They date to 635 million years ago, as the climate was exiting a “snowball earth” phase. For 10 million years, an abledo/H2O feedback loop triggered runaway cooling, locking more and more water vapor as ice, until glaciers covered every continent and oceans were frozen solid over a kilometer deep.
An era of volcanism seems to have saved the planet, but how exactly the biosphere recovered relatively swiftly from such harsh conditions has always been a bit of a puzzle. One hypothesis is that fungi hidden within caves and crevices played a crucial role in life’s return to land, with their enzymes breaking up rock and tough organic matter, basically restoring a soil where plants could grow. It’s far from proven, but these fossils support that hypothesis, and if true, we really have these fungi to thank for being alive today.
I was tempted to write a bad joking senryu about how these microscopic heroes were also fun guys. But then for some reason it reminded me of the way early friends in pre-school disappear from our lives completely, yet play a major role in the development of our psyches. I remember my first crush was a girl name Sarah, and my best friend was some kid named John. I don’t remember anything else about them. In a weird way, though, those are the foundational archetypes that we build many of our relationships from for the rest of our lives. That’s even weirder to think about than a 635 million year-old fungus.
still alive in the layers
of who we are