Anyone want this old mushroom?
Star specimen of 100-million-year-old fungus in amber up for sale.
If you know someone with a fondness for fungi, here's the perfect present: the oldest mushroom ever discovered, encased in amber, and on sale for a mere US$100,000.
The mushroom was discovered by Ron Buckley, a registered nurse and amateur fossil hunter in Florence, Kentucky. Buckley spotted it encased in a piece of Burmese amber that he had obtained from a Canadian importer. With the help of George Poinar, a zoologist at Oregon State University in Corvallis, he determined that the mushroom was a record-breaking 100-million years old. The duo published their results in April in the journal Mycological Research1 (see 'Amber collectors hit on oldest mushroom find').
Now Buckley has listed his specimen on e-bay. The high price, he says, reflects its rarity and the many hours he has logged on his collection. Over the years, Buckley has sold hundreds of other more common specimens through the online auction site.
Let me at it
The decision to sell scientifically interesting artefacts can be distressing because it might make the samples unavailable for future study, says David Hibbett, a mycologist at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. "Having said that, I respect the right of the owner to do with this specimen as he wishes," he adds.
Hibbett, who described in a Nature article in 1995 what was until now the oldest mushroom2, adds that the specimen is of only limited scientific value. Scientists cannot yet extract DNA from such samples, and the fungus cannot be placed in any known modern phylogeny. "From an aesthetic perspective, however, the specimen may be priceless," he says.
Buckley says that he has tried to get museums interested in buying his entire collection, but no one has been willing to pay his $650,000 asking price. He adds that he will seek assurances from the mushroom's buyers that they will share it with any researcher who might like to take a look.
- Poinar, G. & Buckley, R. Mycol. Res. 111, 503-506 (2007).
- Hibbett, D. S., Grimaldi, D. & Donoghue, M. J. Nature 377, 487 (1995).