Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Hallucinating Dinosaurs?

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Hallucinating Dinosaurs?

Article excerpt

A perfectly preserved amber fossil found in Myanmar provides evidence of the earliest grass specimen ever discovered--about 100 million years old. The specimen was topped by a fungus similar to ergot, which has long been intertwined with animals and humans.

Ergot has played roles as a medicine, toxin, and hallucinogen; been implicated in disease epidemics and Salem witch trials; and more recently provided the hallucinogenic drug LSD.

Imagine huge sauropod dinosaurs (such as those depicted at right) eating large portions of this psychotropic fungus, which in other animal species can cause hallucinations, delirium, gangrene, convulsions, or the staggers. The fungus, the grasses the fungus lived on, and dinosaurs that ate grass co-existed for millions of years.

The findings and analysis of this remarkable fossil were published online in the journal Palaeodiversity by researchers from Oregon State University (OSU), the USDA Agricultural Research Service, and Germany.

"It seems like ergot has been involved with animals and humans almost forever, and now we know that this fungus literally dates back to the earliest evolution of grasses," says George Poinar, Jr., of the OSU College of Science.

"This important discovery 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," Poinar says. …

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