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George Poinar, Jr. working with lab equipment

Amber fossil links early grass, dinosaurs and fungus to LSD

By David Stauth

News & Research Communications

George Poinar, Jr. preeminent paleo-entomologist and professor in Integrative Biology

So it seems that dinosaurs ate hallucinogenic fungus growing on prehistoric grass that was then preserved for about 100 million years in an amber fossil.

A perfectly preserved amber fossil from mines in Myanmar, previously known as Burma, that provides evidence of the earliest grass specimen ever discovered. The fossil was topped by a fungus similar to ergot, which for eons has been intertwined with animals and humans.

Amber begins as a tree sap that can flow around small plant and animal forms and permanently preserve them, as it fossilizes into a semi-precious stone. Poinar is a world leader in examining such specimens and using them to learn more about prehistoric ecosystems.

Microscopic image of spikelet fossil

This grass spikelet from the middle Cretaceous is about 100 million years old.

“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,” said George Poinar, Jr., OSU's preeminent paleo-entomologist and emeritus professor in the College of Science’s Department of Integrative Biology.

“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,” Poinar said.

“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.

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