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Fungi found essential to the air we breathe

Image from Pixabay
News from: University of Leeds

Results from the University of Leeds show that fungi were essential in creating the oxygen-rich atmosphere that we breathe today.

Using computer modelling, the team at Leeds were able to recreate the atmospheres of Earth as they would have been millions of years ago. Funded by NERC and led by BBSRC Translational Fellow Dr Katie Field, the research team found that fungi were crucial in ‘mining’ the phosphorus from rocks and transferring it to plants, which could then be photosynthesised.

“The results of including data on fungal interactions present a significant advance in our understanding of the Earth’s early development”, said Dr Benjamin Mills, from Leeds’ School of Earth and Environment. “Our work clearly shows the importance of fungi in the creation of an oxygenated atmosphere”, Dr Mills added.

Unlike plants of today, the plants of hostile prehistoric Earth did not have roots and lacked a vascular tissue system. This means they were unable to hold water or move it around their system, and it was difficult to absorb minerals from the rocky earth.

But ancient fungi were able to extract minerals and pass them on to plants, helping them grow and flourish. This in turn influenced the rate at which plants were able to produce oxygen through photosynthesising carbon dioxide and water into glucose and oxygen. It is thought that the Earth’s atmosphere became oxygen-rich around 500 to 400 million years ago, similar to the air we breathe today.

“Our study shows tiny organisms such as fungi can have major effects on the global environment”, said Dr Sarah Batterman from the School of Geography. “Our critical finding was that the nature of the relationship between fungi and plants could have transformed the atmospheric carbon dioxide, oxygen, and ultimately global climate in very different ways, depending on the type of fungi present.”


Tags: University of Leeds NERC news plants photosynthesis fundamental bioscience fungi frontier bioscience