A fungus that’s been lurking underground for millions of years—known only through its DNA—has been cultured, photographed, named, and assigned a place on the tree of life. Researchers say it represents an entirely new class of fungi: the Archaeorhizomycetes.
Like the discovery of a weird type of aquatic fungus that made headlines a few months ago, this finding offers a glimpse at the rich diversity of microorganisms that share our world but remain hidden from view. Although unseen until recently, the newly named fungus was known to be extremely common in soil. And researchers are still not sure what role it plays in nature, although there’s some evidence it helps break down and recycle dead plants, a common—and extremely important—job for fungi.
“We don’t have any evidence that it’s pathogenic; we don’t have any evidence that it’s mutualistic and doing anything beneficial for the plant,” says Timothy James, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Michigan. “It’s a little bit of a boring fungus.”
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(Photo credits: Timothy James/ Anna Rosling and Karelyn Cruz Martine/ Evan Dougherty)