Fungi, Bees & Future

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Lilli Carré

Fungi first appeared in our pages thanks to Milo. And the name of the essayist below was mentioned a couple times earlier as well. He deserves more attention, especially if his attention is focused on bees:

Will Mushrooms Be Magic for Threatened Bees?

We might be able to save honeybees from viruses transmitted by invasive parasites without chemical treatment.

By Paul Stamets

Mr. Stamets is a mycologist.

Sometime in the 1980s, microscopic mites that had been afflicting honeybees outside the United States found their way to Florida and Wisconsin and began wreaking havoc across the country. These parasites have invaded and decimated wild and domestic bee colonies. Along with other dangers facing bees, like pesticides and the loss of forage lands, the viruses these mites carry threaten the bees we rely on to pollinate many of the fruits, nuts and vegetables we eat. Continue reading

Biobrick, Another Wonder Enabled By Mycelium

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The Hulett hotel, Cleveland, which Redhouse are currently building using the biocycling process.
Illustration: Redhouse Studio

Thanks to Redhouse Studio and the Guardian’s Laura Dorwart for this story:

Magic mushrooms: how fungus could help rebuild derelict Cleveland

Could a process that uses mycelium to help recycle old buildings into new ones solve the problem of the city’s many abandoned homes?

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A biobrick created using broken down construction waste combined with biobinders made of fungi, plant material and microbes. Photograph: Redhouse Studio

Over 7,000 abandoned or condemned homes litter the urban landscape of Cleveland, Ohio, where a stunning population loss of about 100,000 residents in 25 years and widespread foreclosures have sparked a housing crisis marked by growing racial and economic disparities. Posing concerns in terms of economic stability, public health and safety, the abandoned homes that line many of the city’s streets are at once symbols of its resilience and ongoing obstacles to growth and prosperity.

Cleveland native Christopher Maurer, founder and principal architect at local humanitarian design firm Redhouse Studio and adjunct professor at Kent State University, has plenty of ideas about how to address the city’s complex challenges.

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Construction debris is ground to a pulp and combined with biobinders, then pressed and treated to make bricks and other materials. Illustration: Redhouse Studio

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Trees For Life In Scotland

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Trees for Life have planted 1.5m native trees in Glenmoriston and nearby Glen Affric since being founded 30 years ago. Photograph: Desmond Dugan/RSPB/PA

Thanks to Damian Carrington, the Guardian’s Environment editor, for this:

‘Magical’ mushroom mix to boost regrowth of lost Scottish forests

Return of Great Caledonian forest speeded up with fungi spores to help saplings flourish

The return of the Great Caledonian forest that once covered much of Scotland’s highlands is being boosted with a special mix of mushroom spores that should help saplings survive better on the hills.

Fungi living on the roots of trees play a vital role in the ecology, helping to break down nutrients in the soil. But trees were lost in much of the Highlands many years ago so the fungi vanished too.

The new project, run by Trees for Life, is adding the spores when young trees are planted. Continue reading

Enlisting Enzymes for Ecoefficiency

Models of stain-fighting enzymes, displayed on clothes in a washing machine. Credit Carsten Snejbjerg for The New York Times

We’ve been highlighting mycological innovation since the early days of this site, and our enthusiasm has yet to wane. The range of fungi-power will never cease to amaze.

Fighting Climate Change,
One Laundry Load at a Time

A Danish biotechnology company is trying to fight climate change — one laundry load at a time. Its secret weapon: mushrooms like those in a dormant forest outside Copenhagen.

In the quest for a more environmentally friendly detergent, two scientists at the company, Novozymes, regularly trudge through the mud, hunting for oyster mushrooms that protrude from a fallen beech or bracken fungi that feast on tough plant fibers. They are studying the enzymes in mushrooms that speed up chemical reactions or natural processes like decay.

“There is a lot going on here, if you know what to look for,” said Mikako Sasa, one of the Novozymes scientists.

Their work is helping the company develop enzymes for laundry and dishwasher detergents that would require less water, or that would work just as effectively at lower temperatures. The energy savings could be significant. Washing machines, for instance, account for over 6 percent of household electricity use in the European Union.

Enlisting enzymes to battle dirt is not a new strategy. Over thousands of years, mushrooms and their fungi cousins have evolved into masters at nourishing themselves on dying trees, fallen branches and other materials. They break down these difficult materials by secreting enzymes into their hosts. Even before anyone knew what enzymes were, they were used in brewing and cheese making, among other activities. Continue reading

Foraging Forays

Taking a break from packing for my upcoming return to Belize, I joined a group of old friends from the Georgia Mushroom Club in a foray near the Georgia/South Carolina border. Fresh air, a walk in the woods, good company, and foraging for mushrooms – what better way to spend a morning?

The weather has been warm and wet, great conditions for mushrooms and we were happy to find patches of chanterelles. As we searched we talked about Chan Chich Lodge and Belize, and that we’re in the midst of brainstorming collaborations with the staff and local community who carry the ancestral knowledge of the old Mayan and Belizean foodways, and chefs who focus on foraging in the creation of their menus. We’ve recently discovered a variety of foods that are plentifully available from the Chan Chich forests, and are excited to incorporate them into our culinary story.  Continue reading

Consumables Containing Consumables

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The design company Ecovative makes a variety of packaging materials using mycelium fungus. Credit Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times

Thanks again to Stephanie Strom for a story about ecology that surprises:

Packaging Food With Food to Reduce Waste

For the environmentally conscious eater, they are among the most inconvenient truths: Too much food goes to waste. Too much packaging comes with the food. And too much of the packaging is made to last for ages.

Now there may be a single answer to all three problems: using excess food to make the packaging. Continue reading

Citizen Science, Mushroom Edition

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Photo: Johan Hansson/Creative Commons Attribution

We have a mycological leaning on this platform, which started due to Milo’s interest, which was infectious.  So, our news filters pick up stories like this; normally I avoid sharing the stories involving hallucinogens, though I read the serious ones myself. I do not expect stories like this one below from New York Magazine, so this was a pleasant surprise:

Meet the Citizen Scientists Who Think Mushrooms Have Superpowers

By

Last month, around 2,500 people with some connection to hallucinogenic drugs gathered at the Oakland Marriott City Center in Oakland, California for what might best be described as the psychedelics state of the union. Psychedelic Science 2017, as it was more formally known, drew professionals of all stripes: chemists who make the hallucinogens, neuroscientists who study their effects on the brain, therapists who discuss their after-effects on patients, shamans and healers who administer the drugs, and anthropologists like Joanna Steinhardt, who are trying to make sense of the meaning of psychedelic culture. Continue reading

Bioluminescence, Fungi, Science

 

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A bioluminescent jack-o’-lantern mushroom found in Pisgah National Forest, near Asheville, N.C. Credit Mike Belleme for The New York Times

Three of our favorite topics in one, thanks to Joanna Klein, the New York Times, and Science (the section of the paper and the thing itself):

PISGAH NATIONAL FOREST, N.C. — Here’s what I was told: Get away from the city, go during a new moon and keep my flashlight off. When the sky faded black enough to spot stars twinkling, I’d be able to see mushrooms glowing. Continue reading

Bioluminescence Better Understood

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Thanks to Cool Green Science for shedding more light on a topic we have commented on from time to time since starting this platform:

Living Light

What makes some living things glow?

by JENNY ROGERS

For two weeks each year at the beginning of summer, fireflies light up a portion of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They glow in unison or in waves as males communicate with females in an elaborate mating dance that no one fully understands. There are at least 19 firefly species in the park, but Photinus carolinus is one of the only fireflies in America known to light in unison. Tourists arrive by the thousands to watch. Continue reading

Foraging Fellowship In New York City

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Reishi mushrooms (left) and Trametes versicolor collected in a folded map. ZACK DEZON

Thanks to Wired author Charley Locke for his story MEET THE OBSESSIVE MUSHROOM HUNTERS OF NEW YORK CITY:

ON A PARTICULARLY gorgeous Sunday in October, 30 explorers with the New York Mycological Society met at a cemetery in Brooklyn to hunt for mushrooms.

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Reishi mushrooms on a stump. ZACK DEZON

They rummaged through leaves, carefully inspected the headstones, and gingerly reached into tree trunks, hoping to find something amazing. A turkey tail, perhaps, or hen-of-the-wood. “It was like a scavenger hunt,” says Zack DeZon, a photographer who joined them on the search. “It struck me as the analog equivalent of Pokemon Go.”

DeZon is not particularly enamored with fungus, but a mushroom-obsessed friend’s Instagram feed piqued his interest. The fellow pointed him toward the Mycological Society which has since 1962 catered to those with an interest in mycology and mycophagy. The society, created by the composer John Cage, has 430 members and meets throughout the year to find mushrooms, eat mushrooms, and discuss mushrooms.

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Some Ants Fight Fungus with Fungus

Leaf-cutter ants carrying leafy loot back to their underground colony in Carara National Park, Costa Rica

I’ve covered some ants in the past, discussing their fungal friends that provide them food, as well as their foes that turn them into zombies. A recent article by a team of researchers that included members of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute has found that most species of leaf-cutter ants have a practice that helps defend their young against parasitic fungi: wrapping them in the same fungi that they use to digest the leaves they bring underground!

Sarah Puschmann reports:

In the dark recesses of an underground fungus garden, a Panamanian leaf-cutting ant plucks a tuft of mycelia, the wispy part of the basidiomycete fungus these ants grow and eat, and carries it to a nearby ant pupa. The ant licks the pupa’s body before patting the fungus into place, continuing until it appears, when viewed under a powerful microscope, as though the pupa is webbed in short strands of spaghetti.

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Bioluminescent Fungi

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Fungal luciferin could eventually allow the creation of an autonomously luminescent plant. Photograph: Cassius Stevani at the San Paulo University in Brazil

Bioluminescence has appeared in these pages so many times that people probably wonder why. The answer would be because we have contributors who see its wonder of the world quality as directly relevant to our communications mission.

And there was a time when stories about fungi, mushrooms, etc. were the domain of one key contributor. We used to leave stories like this one to our resident mycoenthusiast  Milo, but he is no longer in residence with us; instead, busy now setting up a permaculture organic farm in the rolling hills to the west of Ithaca, NY (USA). So, for lack of a better post-person, this recommendation is from the team:

How research into glowing fungi could lead to trees lighting our streets

Bioluminescence, the peculiar ability of some organisms to behave like living night-lights, could be the key to some remarkable advances

On a moonless night deep in a Brazilian rainforest the only thing you are likely to see are the tiny smears of light from flitting fireflies or the ghostly glow of mushrooms scattered around the forest floor. Both effects are the result of bioluminescence, the peculiar ability of some organisms to behave like living night-lights. Continue reading

Better Packaging for the Ocean’s Sake

Over the years we have referenced Ecovative Designs before, as a mycological solution for styrofoam and way to reduce reliance on petrochemicals. Recently we learned about a new method of replacing plastics that doesn’t involve fungus–at least not directly. Using the byproducts of beer-making (which technically includes yeast, a fungus), the Saltwater Brewery partnered with WeBelievers to create edible six-pack rings for beer cans, as you can see in the video below:

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Another Addition to the Annals of Dung

We’ve written about dung before, when it came to beetles rolling it for the poop’s role (ha) in their life cycle, and when it’s been used for recycled paper, and even household cooking gas derived from biodigested manure. Now, we’re learning via Audubon Magazine about another use for the dried doo, and we figured that would be a good time to share about another interesting excremental story from the natural world, which happens to be the fastest moving organism, in a sense.

Both the Black Lark, a bird species found in Europe and western Asia, and the genus of fungi called Pilobolus, more widely distributed around the world, have to deal with something called the Zone of Repugnance when it comes to dung. Although the ornithologists in the Audubon article aren’t quoted using this phrase, it is accepted in mycologist parlance for those who study livestock excrement or something related to it: animals will avoid eating grass or greens in an area where fecal matter is present. Around every pile of poop is a perimeter that the grazers try to not chew on. Black Larks take advantage of that fact to build their nests in no-step zones, and Pilobolus need to shoot their spores behind enemy lines. Matt Soniak, for Audubon:

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Hyphal Highways

Hyphae are filaments of cells that join together to make the structures in fungi. When you look at the fuzzy patch of mold growing on any of the fruit in your kitchen, you’re looking at lots of hyphae growing into the strands of mold (chances are the mold is a strain of Botrytis cinerea). There’s hundreds of reasons to be studying fungi today — the parasitic wonders they can achieve, the materials they can provide through science in the future, and the foods and medicines that can be cultivated or collected from them.

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Zombie Ants

African ant (Pachycondyla sp) attacked by an insect eating Fungus (Cordyceps sp) Guinea, West Africa. Photo © PIOTR NASKRECKI/ MINDEN PICTURES/National Geographic Creative

A few years ago I wrote about a curious and very specific relationship between some beetles and their wood-eating fungus symbiotic partner, and we’ve also shared other work on crazy parasitic creatures that can alter their hosts’ behavior, sometimes pretty radically (warning, creepy video). Believe it or not, the photo above isn’t some weirdly-antlered African ant–well, actually it is, but the antlers aren’t part of the ant’s body, they’re the spore-spreading apparatus of a parasitic fungus. Read on for more about the real-life World War Z that has been going on between ants (as well as other insects) and a family of zombifying fungi for millennia.

Earlier this week I went to a lecture hosted by Cornell’s Department of Neurobiology and Behavior titled “Zombie Ants: the precise manipulation of animal behavior by a fungal parasite.” The lecturer was David Hughes, Professor of Entomology at Penn State University, whose faculty webpage provides PDF links to most of the articles that he has contributed to if you’re interested in checking out the actual journal pieces on this topic.  Continue reading

Natural Substitute For Some Plastics

In the first couple of years of posts, Milo was our primary resource for information related to the subject covered in this article in the current edition of the New Yorker. Others contributed information too, but Milo’s interest and seemingly encyclopedic knowledge translated into action; he started a culinary grade oyster mushroom cultivation project at Cardamom County; outlined a myco-remediation solution to a perplexing water drainage problem; and took at least hundreds, probably thousands of photographs cataloguing edible, medicinal and neither-edible-nor-medicinal mushrooms and fungi in the Periyar Tiger Reserve.  He did the latter often in the company of the knowledgeable guides from the local indigenous community, sometimes learning from them and other times vice versa.

Now that Milo is in another part of the world, this article reminds those of us in India of his myco-opportunism, and that we must do our own foraging for innovations in this realm:

Gavin McIntyre, the co-inventor of a process that grows all-natural substitutes for plastic from the tissue of mushrooms, holds a pen or pencil in an unusual way. Continue reading

Coffee Rust

John Vandermeer.  A mild infection of coffee rust on a tree in Mexico.

John Vandermeer. A mild infection of coffee rust on a tree in Mexico.

Several contributors to this blog live(d) and work(ed) in Central America and know exactly what you mean. Those of us based in south India–where there is high quality arabica growing in the Coorg-Chikmagalur corridor–are hopeful that this “rust” is contained quickly.  So, Dear John, please succeed:

Until this year, John Vandermeer, an ecologist and coffee researcher at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, had never lost a tree to fungus. Continue reading

It Takes a Thief. And 50 Million Years of Practice

Roughly 50 million years before the first Neolithic human  grain in the ground on purpose, three insect groups—ants, beetles, and termites—evolved the ability to practice agriculture with fungi. When humans started planting nearly 12,000 years ago, it changed the trajectory of life on earth, and today our species dominates its environment with a visible sense of superiority. Insects have been at agriculture for tens of millions of years longer than we have, and we are just beginning to understand their tools and traditions. We don’t know have a sense of their own purpose or not, but we do know that their collective act has had consequences that are still playing out today. Humans may seem to rule the planet, but hidden from their eye most of the time there are insects that dominate the undergrowth.

Fungiculture originated in the beetle family tree at least seven independent times (by comparison, it only originated once each in ant and termite lineages), which Dr. Ulrich Mueller of the University of Texas at Austin says is “perhaps not surprising, given the sheer diversity of beetle species and given the importance of feeding specializations in beetle diversification.” [1]

About 40% of all insect species are in the family Coleoptera, more commonly known to us as beetles. Fungiculture is carried out by the 3,400 species of beetles known as ambrosia beetles, which line the wooden walls of their burrows, or galleries, with fungi that absorb nutrients from the wood. The various fungi strains have been called ambrosia since the late 19th Century.

The black stains that the fungal growths leave on wood are Continue reading

Unveiling Fungi

Fungi are some of the most under-appreciated organisms on the planet, and even the most simple forms can be fascinating and capable of enthralling all but the most listless eyes. Most people associate the word ‘mushroom’ with the button-shaped, styrofoam-flavored Agaricus bisporus, also known as Portabella, Crimini, baby bella, et cetera, ad nauseam. The marketing ploys for peddling this poor excuse for a mushroom are legion, and no matter what name comes on the package, it’s always the same. In that light, the purpose of this post is to unveil the magnificent beauty of the Fifth Kingdom.

Veiled Stinkhorn

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