Categories: Global Tech NewsIT

Amber Fossil Reveals Ancient Mesozoic Fungus With Links to LSD

Fossilized tree resin, more commonly known as amber, has been used in many forms by various civilizations over the past 13,00 years from jewelry and perfumes to ancient folk medicines.

Due to the natural characteristics of the tree resins, sometimes various biological samples such as insects or plant matter were preserved in these fossilized samples, which later allowed researchers to examine them when extracted.  This concept has also seen life on the silver screen in the movie trilogy Jurassic Park where the DNA of a dinosaur was extracted from a mosquito and cloned to create a dinosaur zoo type theme park.

Mosquito fossilized in amber from the movie Jurrasic Park [Image Source:]
  Researchers at Oregon State University have linked a sample of a fungus named Palaeoclaviceps parasiticus to a modern day fungus called Claviceps, more commonly known as ergot. This fungus, which was found in a 100 million year old sample of amber from Myanmar, dates back to the early-mid Cretaceous period when flowering plants and grasses were beginning to evolve.

The discovery was made by recognized researcher Dr. George Poinar, Jr. who is a faculty member at Oregon State University.  The professor, a top paleo-entomologist, describes:

This is an important discovery that helps us understand the timeline of grass development, which now forms the basis of the human food supply in such crops as corn, rice or wheat.  But it also shows that this parasitic fungus may have been around almost as long as the grasses themselves, as both a toxin and natural hallucinogen.
Ergot sclerotium growing on rye grains [Image Source:]
Claviceps purpurea – the most common type of ergot fungus, which grows on rye grains and similar plant types, has been linked to poisoning through consumption back to the Middle Ages were some epidemics killed thousands.

This was largely due to the ergot sclerotium appearing to be part of the rye grain when spores of the fungus contaminated the floret of the grass or cereal grain, forming the ergot kernel. It has also been suggested that ergot poisoning may have played a role in the Salem witch trials. Although these claims have been disputed.

Skeletal formula and 3D model of lysergic acid diethylamide [Image]
While ergot itself doesn’t contain lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), it is derived from ergotamine, which is part of the ergot family of alkaloids and is used in the synthesis of LSD which was discovered in the mid 1900’s. Due to the nature of this extinct fungus and its links to modern day ergot, it is entirely possible dinosaurs consumed plants with this fungus growing on them, but Dr. Poinar speculates that it would be impossible to know what the exact effects it would have had on them.

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