A researcher at Oregon State University and her team has published one of the most detailed genetic analyses ever done on morels or mushrooms, to help identify their ancestry, show how they evolved and what conservation policies may be needed to manage and protect this valuable resource.
The study was done by scientists from OSU, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Eastern Illinois University and private industry.
Nancy Weber found that true morels split off from all other fungal species 129 million years ago, during the beginning of the Cretaceous Period.
Since then, morels have evolved into 177 related species, and western North America - particularly the Pacific Northwest - has been an evolutionary hot spot.
"Oddly enough, most animal species aren't particularly attracted to morels," Weber said.
"A few slugs and other things will eat them. But humans have probably been eating them for about as long as there have been humans."
And if not dinosaurs, humans sure are big fans of mushrooms.
The new genetic analysis has told scientists that morels are very old, but not at all the oldest of 1.5 million species of fungi.
They are found widely around the world, probably travelled with the continents as they drifted apart, but still look pretty much the same way they did millions of years ago.
The study is published in Fungal Genetics and Biology. (ANI)