Episode 69: Fungal Symbioses

Plants, Animals and fungi; these are all three of the Kingdoms of life we’re all most familiar with, but what you might not know is that fungi are more closely related to animals than they are to plants. Stranger still is that the vast majority of terrestrial plants live in a symbiotically with fungi.

In this episode, we interview Prof. Marc-André Selosse, Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris. We discuss this symbiotic relationship and how it helped both groups overcome the massive challenge of adapting to life on land. We further go on to look at exquisitely-preserved fossils which display cellular details and reveal the first evidence of this relationship and discuss the potential identity of a particularly enigmatic giant fossil. We end the conversation theorising about what benefits a true understanding of this symbiosis could have on the future of agriculture.

This relationship between plants and fungi is something that has shaped the evolution of life on land and so this discussion is most definitely not one to be missed!

Direct download: Ep69.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:55pm UTC

Episode 68: Fossil plants and the Paleocene Eocene thermal maximum

The Bighorn Basin in Wyoming has been an important area for research into terrestrial ecosystems for decades. The basin formed as part of the uprising of the Rocky Mountains in the west of North America, and sediment from the surrounding mountain ranges was transported into it for millions of years, building up a huge thickness that has fossils from all kinds of life on land preserved within it. Rocks from many different time periods are now exposed in the basin, but a particularly important one is the Paleocene Eocene thermal maximum (PETM) which occurred around 56 million years ago. At this time a huge amount of carbon was released into the atmosphere very quickly, causing a sharp (by geological standards) increase in temperature and dramatic effects on life. Palaeontologists and geologists are particularly interested in studying the PETM as it can potentially give us lots of information about how life and earth systems might respond in the near future to the large quantities of carbon being released into our atmosphere now by humans.

In this episode recorded in the field we talk to Dr Scott Wing, who is curator of fossil plants at the Smithsonian in Washington DC but has been coming to the basin every summer for decades. We chat about the geology and history of the area, what it's like to work in the Wyoming desert every summer, how to find and collect fossil plants, and what years of research by many people in the basin has told us about the PETM.

Direct download: Ep68.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:30am UTC