Tag Archives: Biological Weirdness

Fungi, our SAVIOR!

Here I was, thinking about symbiosis, and along comes this video by Paul Stamets through TED talks (tip of the hat to Cainad). If you haven’t heard of TED talks before, I pity you.

Anyway, the video is about fungi. Most people wouldn’t care about fungi (aside from the type on your table; yes, those ARE fungi sexparts), but I have a soft spot for Animalia’s closest relative, and this man is truly empassioned.

The truth is, fungi are some of the coolest and weirdest organisms around. What we think of as being a mushroom is only the fruiting body . Maybe you’ve pulled up mulch or rotting wood before and seen a white fuzz, or pulled out an old loaf of bread and found a similar fuzz. This is a mycelium, the vegetative body of a fungus, composed of a closed network of hyphae (hair like cells) in a thin sheet. The network indeed is like a body, as the pockets in between cells become holding tanks for water, food and associated bacteria.

Fungi, like humans, are omnivourous. They decompose material outside their cells. In fact, fungi do most of the decomposing on this planet. Not insects, or worms, but mushrooms, are most important to the regeneration of nutrients in the soil. Fungi also form micorhyzal associations with many species of plants, including most flowering plants. A single mycelium can be long lived and long distance. In fact, the largest organism known is a 10 square kilometer mycelium of the fungus Armillaria ostoyae from Oregon, USA.

This seems like a good time to segwey into my purpose here. I’m a biologist bringing Biological Weirdness, oddities, rants and sermons on why living things continue to astound me, and sometimes pure bio-freak craziness. I’m also here to bring news of a Biocentric Future. There is so much research into genetics, ecology, systematics and behavior these days I can barely keep up. Much of what we are learning is turning into new technologies which will make our lives better.

Take this video for example. Stamets shows excellent opportunities for new ways of pest control (ants and termites terminated by fungal spores which leak into their colonies), new medicines (a rare mushroom showing high activity against flu and pox diseases), fuels from cellulose, and possibly even terraforming other planets. These organisms are amazing, bizarre, beautiful, and useful. The world is full of amazing bizarre, beautiful and useful species.

We just have to be willing to look and wonder.