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Iceman's fungus awakes 50 centuries on

(First Edition)

THE world's oldest fungus is alive and well after spending more than 50 centuries ekeing out a living in a leather boot, writes Steve Connor.

Scientists studying the footwear of the early Bronze Age iceman who died in the Alps 5,300 years ago have managed to grow the fungus from spores found on the hay he stuffed in his boots for insulation.

Kurt Haselwandter, Professor of Microbiology at the University of Innsbruck in Austria, and his colleague Michael Ebner, say the fungus was alive when the man died.

Although the spores were dormant they came back to life when the scientists transferred them to a nutrient jelly making them the world's oldest known living fungi, the scientists say in the current issue of New Scientist.

Archaeologists believe the iceman, discovered by walkers in 1991 on Austria's border with Italy, has been covered by ice since his death which has provided the perfect sub-zero conditions for preserving the fungal spores.

The next step for the researchers is to compare the genes of the iceman's hay fungus with present-day varieties to see if any genetic changes have come about in the intervening years - roughly 60,000 generations for the microbe.

Iceman's fungus awakes 50 centuries on