Self Help

Entangled Life How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures - Merlin Sheldrake

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Matheus Puppe

· 68 min read

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  • Fungi are everywhere but often invisible, living both inside and around us, sustaining us and the environment in many ways.

  • Fungi include microscopic yeasts as well as the largest known organisms on Earth, vast underground fungal networks that can spread across kilometers.

  • Fungi have played major roles in dramatic events and changes on Earth, like enabling the first plants to colonize land over 500 million years ago by serving as their root systems until plants evolved their own roots.

  • Today, over 90% of plants depend on mycorrhizal fungi networks that connect plant roots, sometimes called the “wood wide web.” This ancient plant-fungus association gave rise to all life on land.

  • The future of life on Earth depends on the continued association between plants and fungi. Fungi are a vital but often overlooked kingdom that are changing how life happens through activities like breaking down rock, making soil, recycling nutrients, aiding and harming plants, surviving in space, producing medicines and foods, and impacting the atmosphere.

Here is a summary of the key points about the continued ability of plants and fungi to form healthy relationships:

  • Fungi were some of the earliest colonizers of land, with giant fungus-like organisms called Prototaxites dominating landscapes over 400 million years ago before plants evolved.

  • Today, fungi are still important pioneers, being the first organisms to establish themselves on new volcanic islands and glacial habitats through lichens.

  • Fungal networks in soil called mycelium are essential for holding soil particles together and allowing plant roots to grow.

  • Fungi form intimate relationships with plant roots and tissues, acting as an important defense against diseases. No plant exists naturally without these associated fungi.

  • The fungal-plant relationship is mutually beneficial, with fungi receiving nutrients from plants and plants receiving nutrients, water uptake and disease defense from fungi.

  • Complex societies like leaf-cutter ant colonies rely heavily on cultivating fungal gardens to break down plant material for food.

  • Humans have also harnessed fungal power through the development of antibiotics like penicillin and using fungi to produce foods like bread, cheese and alcoholic beverages.

So in summary, fungi continue to play a vital role in enabling plant life through various symbiotic relationships that have evolved over hundreds of millions of years. Both organisms depend on each other for growth and survival.

  • Fungi play a vital yet underappreciated role in human societies and ecosystems. They produce many important medicines like penicillin and statins through their diverse metabolisms. Around 60% of industrial enzymes and 15% of vaccines are fungal-derived.

  • Fungi form symbiotic relationships with plants through mycorrhizal networks underground, exchanging nutrients and signaling molecules. This “wood wide web” is hugely complex and important for nutrient cycling in forests but still poorly understood.

  • The author’s PhD research focused on these plant-fungal networks in tropical Panama rainforests. Through extensive fieldwork collecting soil and root samples, growing experiments, and chemical tracing, they sought to map nutrient flows through fungal communities.

  • A small non-photosynthetic blue flower called Voyria that grew in the forest intrigued the author, as it had lost the ability to perform photosynthesis but survived somehow. They hypothesized its unusual relationships with fungi held clues about underground processes.

  • Fungal technologies also offer solutions to environmental problems like declining bee populations and pollution cleanup. Despite fungi’s importance, they remain vastly understudied compared to plants and animals. More research is needed to comprehend their full roles and potential.

The passage describes how the author’s understanding of life has changed through studying fungi. Fungi challenge typical categories and present open questions that are uncomfortable. Two areas of research have helped the author navigate this.

First, the growing awareness that brainless organisms like slime molds can exhibit sophisticated problem-solving behaviors throughtheir networks. Examples are given of slime molds recreating efficient transportation routes.

Second, new insights from microbial research showing that humans and other organisms harbor vast numbers of microbes that form integral ecosystems. Our bodies are composed of and decomposed by microbes, challenging ideas of where individuals begin and end. At a conference, researchers found it made no sense to talk of individuals, as life is defined by relationships between organisms. Much remains unknown in the microbial world.

Fungi trick us out of expectations in the same way as magic tricks, loosening our preconceptions and allowing us to see with new eyes. This challenges typical hierarchies and categorizations, which could change attitudes toward the natural world.

  • The passage discusses the complexity of relationships between different organisms and how it can be difficult to determine influences and dependencies. Who domesticates who?

  • It brings up an experience studying fungi and soil ecosystems. Tools allowed analysis but the lives of microbes remained difficult to experience directly. Imagination was required to understand and communicate findings.

  • Imagination in science is sometimes viewed suspiciously but is an important part of the process. An experiment had the author take LSD to potentially solve work problems from new angles by accessing the “professional unconscious.”

  • Under the influence, the author imagined what it was like to be a fungus underground, surrounded by growth and interactions. This challenged preconceived abstract ideas of interactions and forced an admission of imagined conceptualizations of fungi, gained through personal experience.

  • The key ideas are the complex, ambiguous nature of relationships between organisms and ecosystems, and how imagination and personal experience shape scientific understanding, even if findings must be carefully communicated.

The passage discusses truffle fungi and how they lure animals through their powerful smells. Truffles produce underground fruiting bodies that contain spores. To disperse their spores, truffles evolved intense scents that can travel through soil and attract animals. Their scents match animal preferences through evolutionary adaptations.

The author travels to Italy to experience truffle hunting by following dogs that can detect truffles’ scents. Truffle smells immerse humans in the chemical communication worlds of fungi. Though fungi do not have noses or brains, their entire surfaces act as sensory receptors when chemicals bind to them.

Truffle smells have long been associated with sex and excitement in humans. Their scents produce emotive memories and even “olfactory flashbacks.” Pungent truffle smells evolved to stimulate animals into eating and dispersing fungal spores. However, the high market value of truffles also leads to illegal poaching, dog theft, and violence between truffle hunters.

  • Truffles are a highly prized and expensive delicacy that can sell for thousands per kilogram. Their strong aroma attracts animals like pigs and dogs to find them underground.

  • Hunting truffles is difficult work that involves hiking long distances through rough terrain. Truffle hunters keep their most productive hunting locations secret from others.

  • The chemistry behind a truffle’s allure is complex. While one study identified dimethyl sulfide as the key attractant, truffles likely use complex bouquets of dozens of volatile compounds. Different animals also have varying tastes.

  • Truffles rely on living microbes within their bodies to continually produce aromas as part of their metabolism. This is why fresh truffles must be consumed or prepared within a few days of harvesting before their cells die and the smell fades.

  • Humans have trained dogs, especially the Lagotto Romagnolo breed, to locate truffles for them, as pigs will eat the truffles entirely. Sophisticated global supply chains exist to get fresh truffles to restaurants worldwide within two days.

  • The narrator accompanies two truffle hunters, Paride and Daniele, into the oak forests near their homes to observe their truffle hunting methods and experience the aroma of truffles firsthand.

  • The passage describes a truffle hunting expedition led by Paride in Italy. They are joined by another hunter named Daniele and their dogs.

  • Daniele trains his dog Diavolo through hunger, while Paride trains his dog Kika through affection and sees it as more of a game. Diavolo is unkempt and aggressive while Kika is friendly.

  • Diavolo suddenly detects a truffle and begins digging. Daniele helps uncover a white truffle about 1.5 feet underground.

  • The passage discusses how truffles release aromatic compounds to attract animals for dispersal of spores. It also discusses the complex communication between fungi through branching and fusing of hyphae, and between fungi and plants through chemical signaling to form symbiotic relationships.

  • Truffles result from the sexual encounter between compatible mycelial networks of fungi. Their relationships with partner trees are also intricately managed through chemical interactions.

  • The fluid and dynamic nature of these fungal-plant partnerships makes domestication of truffle fungi difficult.

  • Truffle cultivation is challenging because truffles have complex relationships with trees and bacteria in the soil that are not fully understood. Success rates for planting truffle seedlings vary widely from year to year, even for experienced cultivators.

  • Understanding the unique needs of truffles and their associated organisms, as well as subtle environmental variations, is important for effective cultivation but scientific knowledge is still limited. Truffle relationships involve entire ecosystems.

  • Some fungi prey on nematode worms using diverse trapping methods like nets, nooses, toxic droplets, or swimming spores. Individual fungi can respond variably. Their ability to detect nematodes chemically shows exquisite sensitivity.

  • When thinking about fungal communication and interactions, it is difficult to avoid anthropomorphizing while also recognizing these organisms display complex responses to their environments. Their chemical sensitivity allows interactions like negotiating with trees or detecting prey, without necessarily experiencing the world like humans.

  • The author discusses truffle hunting with experts in Oregon and finds new truffle species continue to be discovered, showing how much remains unknown, while human land use changes over centuries have unintentionally supported truffle cultivation.

  • Truffle production requires mature forests with certain tree species, not woodlands that have been cleared for agriculture or abandoned and grown into forests.

  • Lefevre sees the resurgence of trufficulture (truffle cultivation) as exciting because it produces a valuable cash crop from forested landscapes and invests private capital into environmental restoration. Growing truffles requires growing trees and understanding the soil ecosystem.

  • Fungi like mycelium navigate their environments in complex ways, branching and taking multiple paths at forks. They can reroute around obstacles and remember directions. Mycelial networks perform functions analogous to human transportation, electrical, and communication systems.

  • Researchers like Lynne Boddy have studied how mycelium colonies optimize foraging and routing between resource sources like blocks of wood representing cities. Mycelium remodels itself in efficient ways, showing an adaptive “swarm intelligence” despite being fully connected anatomically. Their modeling behaviors could inform human network design problems.

  • Researchers have used slime molds to calculate efficient fire evacuation routes from buildings by applying the problem-solving strategies of fungi and slime molds to navigate mazes.

  • Mycelial fungi are adept at solving spatial and routing problems as they spread through environments in search of food. Their network structure allows both exploration and interconnection.

  • Experiments show mycelium can effectively solve mazes and prune back unnecessary connections, reinforcing optimal routes like a form of natural selection.

  • Mycelial networks demonstrate coordinated behavior across distances without a central control, such as pulses of bioluminescence synchronized between separate cultures.

  • Fungi place their mycelial bodies directly in food sources to digest externally rather than ingesting food internally like animals. This allows them to opportunistically shape-shift and fill unpredictable environments.

  • Different fungal species form unique mycelial networks with varying structures, thickness, foraging behaviors, and ability to penetrate tough materials in search of nutrients.

  • Mycelium, the main part of a fungus, grows through hyphal tips at the advancing edge. New cellular materials arrive and fuse with the tip, allowing it to grow at up to 600 new units per second.

  • Hyphae can come together to form elaborate structures like cords/rhizomorphs, which are thick strands that transport nutrients over large distances very rapidly, up to 1.5 meters per hour.

  • Mushrooms are structures made of the same hyphal cells as the mycelium. Their growth requires rapid influx and transport of water through the mycelial network.

  • Transport within mycelium occurs through microtubules and fluid flow within hyphae. This allows different parts of the network to specialize in functions like feeding or fruiting.

  • Hyphae are sensitive and can steer their growth towards appealing stimuli and away from unappealing ones. Fungi like Phycomyces have remarkable light-sensing abilities to detect orientation and light levels. Their growth is guided by sensory perceptions in the environment.

  • Fungal hyphal tips are thought to be where sensory data streams from the mycelial network come together to determine the direction and speed of growth. However, it’s unclear how tips in distant parts of the network can communicate.

  • Experiments have shown mycelial networks can coordinate behavior and responses too quickly to be explained by chemical signaling alone.

  • Olsson inserted microelectrodes into mycelium of Armillaria (honey fungus) and detected regular electrical impulses firing along hyphae, similar to neural action potentials.

  • When food sources like wood blocks were placed near the mycelium, the firing rate of the impulses doubled, suggesting the impulses carried stimulatory signals. Non-food blocks did not elicit a response.

  • Olsson found other fungi also generated action potentials that responded to stimuli, suggesting electrical signaling may allow fungi to rapidly communicate messages about food, damage, conditions, etc across their networks.

  • Some neurobiologists were excited by the possibility that mycelial networks communicate and integrate information via electrically conducted signals in a manner analogous to brain processing. However, the ability of mycelial networks to “think” remains controversial.

  • Research in the 1990s by mycologist Prof. Olsson found that mycelial networks of fungi transmit electrical signals, stimulating comparisons to brain networks. However, Olsson cautioned against calling them “brains” due to significant differences in architecture.

  • Later studies by Andrew Adamatzky built on this, demonstrating electrical signaling between mushrooms within a mycelial cluster in response to stimuli. He proposed the idea of a “fungal computer” that could encode and process information via electrical spikes.

  • Adamatzky envisions using fungal networks as large-scale environmental sensors by stimulating them and interpreting their electrical responses, allowing monitoring of ecosystem changes.

  • However, more research is needed to conclusively demonstrate that electrical activity in fungi can link stimuli to responses, analogous to neuron signaling in animal brains.

  • The studies raise philosophical questions about what constitutes intelligence and cognition. Some argue network-based organisms like fungi exhibit problem-solving and decision-making, even without brains or minds. Others see them as having a “minimal” or “basal” form of cognition.

  • Lichens are composed of a symbiotic relationship between a fungus and another organism like algae or cyanobacteria. This dual nature of lichens was first proposed in 1869 and challenged existing ideas of what constituted an individual organism.

  • Lichens have unique abilities to survive in extreme conditions like outer space. Some lichen species were sent to the International Space Station where they survived exposure to space conditions, making them important models for astrobiology research.

  • Lichens force us to question conventional boundaries between individuals. Their dual nature blurs the distinction between where one organism ends and another begins. Understanding lichens requires an ecological view that organisms exist in relationships within environments.

  • Lichens have helped expand our view of life’s limits. Their ability to survive in harsh conditions like space pushes the limits of what we think terrestrial life is capable of. Further research on lichens could provide insights into their networking abilities and survival mechanisms.

  • The passage discusses Schwendener’s dual hypothesis that lichens are a symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae (or cyanobacteria). This was controversial at the time as it challenged ideas of discrete lineages and taxa.

  • Over subsequent decades, more biologists accepted the dual hypothesis. Frank coined the term “symbiosis” to describe these living partnerships without prejudice. De Bary further generalized it to any inter-species interactions.

  • Lichens supported emerging ideas about fungi helping plants obtain nutrients and the discovery of algae living inside other organisms, described as “animal lichens” or “microlichens.”

  • Lichens became a gateway to the biological principle of symbiosis, challenging prevailing ideas that evolution occurred solely through competition/conflict. They showed inter-kingdom collaboration.

  • Lichens now cover around 8% of the Earth’s surface. They weather and decompose rock, creating the first soils for ecosystems. They play an important role inhabiting the boundary between life and non-life.

So in summary, it traces the dual hypothesis theory for lichens, the initial controversy it caused, its acceptance over time, and how lichens came to demonstrate the principle of symbiosis and shape our understanding of evolution and ecology.

  • Joshua Lederberg was a prodigy who made important early discoveries about horizontal gene transfer in bacteria. He found bacteria can exchange genes with each other, acquiring traits from other bacteria rather than just vertically from parents.

  • This changed the understanding of bacteria as isolated biological islands with closed genomes. It showed their genomes are cosmopolitan, made up of genes evolved separately that were acquired horizontally.

  • Lederberg coined the term “exobiology” for the study of extraterrestrial life since no term existed yet. This eventually became the field of astrobiology.

  • His ideas about horizontal gene transfer were influenced by Cold War paranoia and the idea that life on other planets could “infect” Earth with organisms not evolved here, shortcutting normal evolution with consequences.

  • Lynn Margulis later championed the theory that symbiosis played a central role in early evolution, with eukaryotic cells arising through endosymbiosis of bacteria living together inside cells. This transformed understanding of how complex life evolved.

So in summary, it discusses key early pioneers like Lederberg and Margulis who advanced understanding of horizontal gene transfer, symbiosis and their implications for evolution through important discoveries and theories.

  • Lichens are symbiotic organisms composed of fungi and photosynthetic bacteria or algae. They can survive extreme environmental conditions like heat, cold, dryness, radiation, etc. making them well-suited to space travel.

  • Experiments exposing lichens to Mars-like conditions found they entered dormancy, reducing activity, but could be revived after hydration. Dormancy allows them to survive desiccation and radiation.

  • Lichens also produce chemical sunscreens and have thick tissues that protect against radiation. Their innovative metabolisms produce many novel chemicals used in medicine, perfumes, dyes, and foods.

  • As extremophiles, lichens can survive in hot deserts, inside solid rock, and the Antarctic Dry Valleys approximating Mars. Some revival after liquid nitrogen exposure. The oldest known lichen is over 9,000 years old.

  • Lichens’ ability to survive varied extreme conditions as multicellular symbiotic organisms makes them interesting for astrobiology. Intact lichens could potentially travel between planets encapsulating a complete ecosystem. However, they would need to withstand ejection from meteorite impact and space travel stresses.

  • Lichens are able to withstand extreme conditions like shock waves, heat, and arid environments due to their symbiotic nature. Researchers have shown that lichens can survive shock pressures much greater than the deepest parts of the ocean floor.

  • However, reentry into a planetary atmosphere may pose more challenges. When samples of bacteria and lichen were exposed to over 2000 degrees Celsius for 30 seconds during reentry, the rocks melted partially and all living cells were destroyed.

  • Some argue lichens embedded deep within meteorites could survive reentry. Micrometeorites may also carry lichens safely due to experiencing lower temperatures and friction during atmospheric entry. The question of how lichens could travel between planets remains open.

  • Lichens are symbiotic partnerships between fungi and algae or cyanobacteria. They have evolved independently multiple times. Researchers have found lichen-like relationships can form spontaneously in just a few days when different fungi and algae are grown together under the right conditions.

  • Recent discoveries have shown lichen partnerships are more complex than previously believed, with multiple fungal and bacterial partners playing roles beyond just the classic fungus-algae duo. The identity of partners is less important than their functional compatibility and ability to form a stable symbiosis.

  • The passage discusses how lichens are no longer viewed as simply the dualistic interaction of a fungus and algae, but rather as complex symbiotic systems composed of multiple partners - fungi, algae, and various bacteria.

  • Recent research has found lichens contain many bacterial species that provide functions like defense, nutrient production, and may be necessary for the lichen system to form.

  • Some see lichens as challenging our understanding of what constitutes a living organism. Lichens don’t fit into a clean dualistic definition and instead represent a “system” greater than the sum of its parts.

  • All organisms exist in intimate relationships with microbes and cannot truly be defined or separated from these microbial communities they host. The concept of a “holobiont” refers to a whole assemblage of organisms functioning as a unit, like lichens.

  • The passage suggests we too are “symborgs” or symbiotic organisms formed through complex relationships with microbes, rather than purely distinct individuals. There has never been a clear separation between organisms and their environment or symbiotic partners.

So in summary, the passage discusses how recent research finds lichens to be even more complex systems than previously thought, composed of multiple microbial partners. It draws parallels to how all organisms exist interdependently with microbes and cannot be viewed as purely distinct individuals.

  • The passage describes the experience of taking LSD as part of a clinical trial and getting lost in thought about how fungal chemicals can alter human experiences and consciousness.

  • It discusses how psilocybin mushrooms and LSD confound human concepts like the sense of self and have been used in rituals and spiritual practices for centuries. They also show promise as powerful medicines for addiction, depression, and end-of-life distress.

  • However, it remains puzzling why certain fungi evolved to produce these chemicals. The author reflects on ending up in the hospital room as part of understanding LSD’s continuing bewildering effects.

  • Another section discusses “zombie fungi” like Ophiocordyceps that precisely control the behaviors of infected insects in ways that aid the fungus’ reproduction. They are able to orchestrate fine-tuned behaviors through secreted chemicals and physical infiltration of tissues, more so than any human-designed drug.

  • The author recounts first learning about mind-altering plants and mushrooms from ethnobotanist Terence McKenna as a child in Hawaii. Many psychoactive substances have long been an intimate part of human cultures and spirituality.

  • Certain fungi have the ability to manipulate the behavior of their insect hosts in order to facilitate their own reproduction and transmission.

  • Ophiocordyceps is a well-known example of a fungus that infects ants and causes them to climb vegetation and clamp onto surfaces with their jaws before killing the host. This helps spread the fungus’s spores.

  • The fungus Entomophthora uses a virus it carries to potentially manipulate fly behavior, causing them to climb and get stuck in places where fungal spores can disperse.

  • The fungus Massospora infects cicadas and causes their disintegration, while intriguingly producing psychedelic and stimulant chemicals like psilocybin and cathinone. This may play a role in manipulating the host’s behavior to the fungus’s benefit before death.

  • Parasitic manipulation of host behavior has evolved independently in multiple fungal lineages and represents an adaptive strategy to facilitate transmission and reproduction. The mechanisms can involve neurochemical as well as immunosuppressive and physical manipulation of the host.

  • The passage discusses how some traditional cultures believe in composite creatures and fluid boundaries between organisms. Shamans in indigenous societies believe they can inhabit the minds and bodies of animals and plants.

  • While these accounts seem to stretch biological limits, symbiosis reveals many hybrid lifeforms exist in nature, like lichens. All organisms also have mutually beneficial microbial inhabitants that influence their behavior and reproduction.

  • Mind-manipulating fungi remain dramatic examples of composite organisms. Infected ants behave more like “fungi in ant’s clothing” under the fungi’s evolutionary influence.

  • Dawkins’ concept of the extended phenotype helps make sense of this, where an organism’s genes influence inherited behaviors and extended traits in the environment. Ophiocordyceps’ manipulation of ants qualifies as an extended fungal phenotype.

  • Recent research confirms psychedelic mushrooms’ ability to cure human problems, matching traditional understandings. Studies find psilocybin can reliably induce mystical experiences with lasting impacts on well-being and behaviors like smoking cessation.

  • While appearing to support materialism, participants interpret psychedelic experiences non-mechanistically, emerging with convictions of a transcendent “beyond.” This poses a riddle for prevailing scientific views.

  • Psilocybin mushrooms induce mystical and spiritual experiences through biochemical effects on the brain. Psilocybin is converted to psilocin, which mimics serotonin and activates receptors in the brain.

  • Brain imaging studies show psilocybin reduces activity in the default mode network (DMN), the “capital city” of the brain that maintains order and self-reflection. This leads to increased connectivity and novel neural pathways, an “unconstrained style of cognition.”

  • Reducing the DMN is linked to feelings of “ego-dissolution” or loss of self. This opening of the mind allows new ways of thinking that seem to underlie psilocybin’s therapeutic effects for conditions like depression, anxiety, and addiction.

  • Some argue the altered experiences induced by psilocybin mushrooms could be considered part of their “extended phenotype” - how they influence other organisms to promote their genes. However, unlike fungi that directly parasite other species, psilocybin mushrooms do not live within humans and it is unclear if inducing “better” experiences leads to greater reproductive success. So they likely do not meet Richard Dawkins’ stringent criteria for an extended phenotype.

  • Psilocybin mushrooms have been producing psilocybin for millions of years before humans evolved. It’s unclear what benefit it provided to the fungi initially.

  • Studies show the psilocybin gene cluster has transferred between fungal species multiple times, suggesting it conferred an evolutionary advantage. It may have influenced insect behavior in ways that benefited the fungi.

  • While psilocybin doesn’t seem to deter insects that interact with the mushrooms, it may have attracted psilocybin-tolerant insects to help spread spores.

  • When humans encountered psilocybin mushrooms, it transformed the relationship. Humans sought them out, cultivated them, and spread their spores widely. This helped the fungi proliferate.

  • Figures like Richard Evans Schultes, Gordon Wasson, and Timothy Leary played key roles in the 20th century discovery and popularization of psilocybin mushrooms in Western culture through their field research and written accounts. Leary in particular promoted psychedelics widely in the 1960s.

  • Timothy Leary advocated for psychedelic drugs in the 1960s, fueling the countercultural movement. He addressed a huge gathering in 1967 called the Human Be-In.

  • However, backlash soon led to LSD and psilocybin being made illegal by the late 1960s. Most psychedelic research had been shut down.

  • In the 1970s, interest grew in magic mushrooms as an alternative to now-illegal LSD. However, wild mushrooms were limited and seasonal.

  • In 1976, Terence and Dennis McKenna published a guide on how to cultivate psilocybin mushrooms at home, making it possible to produce unlimited quantities with simple tools. This was very popular and influential.

  • Paul Stamets later published another simplified cultivation guide. In the 1990s-2000s, the psychedelic mushroom cultivation underground spread, with shops openly selling them in the Netherlands for a time. Kits became readily available online.

  • Over 200 species of psilocybin mushrooms have now been described worldwide, found in many environments, dispersed in part by humans finding and spreading them. Their effects profoundly alter human consciousness in ways not fully explained.

  • There is a global community of DIY mycologists (fungus enthusiasts) who cultivate mushrooms in their homes for food and as a hobby. Some see mushrooms as having potential benefits for the world.

  • Prominent figures like Paul Stamets promote mushrooms and their abilities to solve environmental problems. Stamets speaks to large audiences about mushrooms.

  • Others like the late Terence McKenna believed they could understand the perspective of fungi or communicate with them. McKenna claimed mushrooms allowed him to understand the fungal experience.

  • This has contributed to interest in psilocybin mushrooms which some claim can induce mystical or psychological experiences if consumed. However, the legal status of psilocybin varies in different places.

  • Overall there is growing enthusiasm among some for cultivating and studying mushrooms, both for their culinary and perceived environmental benefits as well as their psychoactive compounds and ability to alter human consciousness. However, the claims of figures like McKenna are controversial.

  • Mycorrhizal fungi form extensive networks of hyphae (filaments) in the soil, with a total length estimated to be around half the width of the Milky Way galaxy. If this hyphae was ironed out flat, it would cover the land surface of Earth 2.5 times over.

  • However, hyphae constantly grow and die back, regenerating 10-60 times per year. Over millions of years, their cumulative length would exceed the diameter of the known universe. Existing for over 500 million years, their total length is undoubtedly underestimated.

  • Mycorrhizal fungi have a dual role - parts live inside plant roots while other parts live in the soil. They help plants obtain nutrients like phosphorus and cope with environmental stresses. This relationship between fungi and plant roots is mutually beneficial.

  • Evidence suggests mycorrhizal fungi played a key role in lowering atmospheric carbon dioxide levels in the Devonian period, around 400 million years ago, by helping plants obtain nutrients and grow more. Computer climate models support this, showing fungal efficiency in nutrient exchange can impact global climate.

  • The extensive mycelial networks of mycorrhizal fungi continue to profoundly influence the cycling of carbon and other nutrients in ecosystems today and have shaped the evolution of life on Earth over hundreds of millions of years.

  • Mycorrhizal fungi form symbiotic relationships with plant roots, supplying nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, zinc and copper in exchange for carbohydrates from the plant. This relationship is essential for plant growth and survival.

  • Experiments have shown mycorrhizal fungi can influence properties of the plant like flavor, aroma, appearance, and even attractiveness to pollinators. Different fungal species partnered with things like strawberry plants, basil, and wheat can produce noticeable changes.

  • The interactions between plants and mycorrhizal fungi are complex, with constantly shifting balances of power and resource exchange. Researchers are studying how both partners manage this “demanding social landscape” through reciprocal rewards and flexible trading strategies that depend on available resources.

  • Neither the plant nor fungus fully controls the relationship. They appear able to strike compromises and resolve trade-offs through sophisticated decision-making processes, even without brains. While not fully understood, plants and fungi seem to integrate information and choose between options in their interactions.

So in summary, the passage discusses the evidence that mycorrhizal fungi can influence plant properties and growth, and explores the idea that plants and fungi navigate their symbiotic relationship through complex, brainless decision-making and social behaviors.

  • The researcher, Eve Kiers, conducted an experiment where she exposed a single mycorrhizal fungus to an unequal supply of phosphorus across its network. One part had abundant phosphorus, the other had scarce phosphorus.

  • She found that in areas with scarce phosphorus, the plant had to “pay” more (provide more carbon) to the fungus for each unit of phosphorus received. Where phosphorus was abundant, the exchange rate was less favorable for the fungus.

  • Surprisingly, the fungus coordinated its trading behavior across the network, actively transporting phosphorus from abundant to scarce areas to get a better “price” or exchange rate with the plant. This “buy low, sell high” strategy maximized the carbon it received in return.

  • The study provides insights into the intricacies of plant-fungal nutrient exchanges and how cooperative solutions can emerge within fungal networks in response to local supply and demand conditions. However, the precise mechanisms and control of these behaviors are still unknown.

  • Two species of palm trees on Lord Howe Island, Australia have diverged into different habitats - one grows on acidic volcanic soil, the other on alkaline chalky soil.

  • A study found that the two palm species associate with different mycorrhizal fungal communities in the soil.

  • The palm growing in chalky soil formed relationships with fungi that allow it to thrive in those alkaline conditions, but not in the ancestral volcanic soil.

  • Over time, as the palms associated with different fungi in the separate soil types, even on the same small island, they evolved into two distinct species adapted to their separate fungal “islands”.

  • Mycorrhizal fungi play an important role in shaping which plants can grow where and can drive plant evolution through isolating populations. Their interactions with plants have profound implications.

  • Sustainable agriculture that supports diverse mycorrhizal fungal communities in the soil is important for soil and plant health, according to numerous studies. Intensive farming practices often disrupt these fungal communities.

  • Mycorrhizal fungi form symbiotic relationships with the roots of most plants, exchanging nutrients and carbon compounds.

  • Ghost pipes (Monotropa uniflora) are unusual plants that have lost the ability to photosynthesize. However, they survive by receiving carbon and nutrients from mycorrhizal fungi.

  • The carbon that powers ghost pipes must ultimately come from green plants via shared mycorrhizal networks. Early scientists puzzled over how these plants could survive without photosynthesis.

  • In the 1960s, Erik Björkman provided the first evidence that substances can pass between plants through mycorrhizal fungi by showing radioactive sugars transferred from injected trees to nearby ghost pipes.

  • Most plants engage in relationships with multiple mycorrhizal fungi, and separate fungal networks can fuse together. This results in potentially vast underground networks connecting different plants. These complex interconnected systems are called “wood wide webs” and demonstrate how organisms can interact in net-like, entangled fashions through mycorrhizal relationships.

  • Fungal networks form physical connections between plants known as common mycorrhizal networks (CMNs). This embodies the principle of interdependence in ecology - organisms are inextricably linked in relationships.

  • Researchers like David Read and Suzanne Simard provided key evidence that CMNs allow transfers of resources like carbon between plants. Read demonstrated transfer between lab plants, while Simard found transfers between trees in forests.

  • Their findings challenged views of plants as separate competitors and suggested more emphasis on resource sharing within communities. This aligned with emerging concepts in network science showing real-world networks are highly interconnected.

  • While more studies found CMNs transfer important resources like carbon and nutrients, others found no transfer. Their ecological importance remains debated, as behavior likely varies by fungus and environment. However, CMNs undoubtedly form widespread connections between plants in nature.

  • Monotropa plants are known as mycoheterotrophs - they are fully dependent on mycorrhizal fungi for nutrients and don’t photosynthesize themselves. They serve as evidence that nutrient transfer between plants via shared fungal networks can support life.

  • Approximately 10% of plant species are mycoheterotrophic to some degree. They have evolved independently many times, suggesting nutrient transfer via fungi is not difficult. Orchids are mycoheterotrophic early in life.

  • Mycoheterotrophs are conspicuous as they don’t need to be green. Their unusual colors and forms attracted naturalists. Their presence indicates functioning fungal networks underground.

  • Energy and resources tend to flow “downhill” through fungal networks, from larger plants that are sources to smaller sink plants. However, the direction can change depending on the plants’ activities and conditions.

  • This raises puzzles about why plants would share nutrients with neighbors via fungi. Several hypotheses exist like no real cost to donors, reciprocity over time, or benefitting close relatives.

  • Perspectives tend to be plant-centric but should also consider the fungi’s role in nutrient circulation and in benefiting from the plant-fungal symbioses. Fungi are more than just passive plumbing and likely get significant benefits from their many plant partnerships.

  • Paying more attention to plants than fungi leads to being “plant-centric” and overlooking the important role of fungi. The language of the “wood wide web” metaphor suggests plants are the main nodes and fungi are passive connections, which is misleading.

  • Fungi are active participants that transport nutrients and signals through their mycelial networks in dynamic ways, not just passive pipelines. They can regulate flows to optimize resource exchange.

  • Shared mycorrhizal networks are just one type of fungal network. Others exist that are not plant-linked, like those that decompose organic matter over long distances.

  • Adopting a “myco-centric” viewpoint helps understand fungal interests in maintaining diverse plant partnerships for their own benefit.

  • While plant sharing can benefit growth, networks also enable competition and transmission of signals/compounds like toxins between plants in complex ways with mixed outcomes.

  • Networks provide highways for bacteria movement and interactions, with some bacteria farming by fungi. Plant communication signals could potentially pass underground between plants via fungi.

  • Researchers conducted an experiment connecting broad bean plants via a shared mycorrhizal network, while preventing connection for other plants using mesh.

  • When aphids attacked one connected plant, the other connected plants increased production of volatile defense compounds, even without direct contact with aphids. This attracted parasitic wasps.

  • Similar effects were later observed with other plant-pest systems, suggesting communication between plants via fungal networks is more common than initially thought.

  • However, the exact mechanism of this communication remains unclear. Chemical or electrical signals passing through the fungi are possibilities, but more research is needed to understand what plants are responding to.

  • Scaling these findings to whole ecosystems is difficult, as lab experiments involve small numbers of plants while wood wide webs in nature can span large areas with many interconnected plants.

  • Understanding the architecture and pathways of natural fungal networks would help interpret the ecological roles and impacts of underground communication between plants. Few studies have attempted to map actual networks in ecosystems.

  • Susanne Simard studied a 30x30 meter plot of forest and mapped the genetic connections between individual trees and fungi using a DNA fingerprinting technique.

  • She found the fungal networks spanned tens of meters and connected trees, but not evenly. Young trees had few connections while older trees were highly connected hubs linking to dozens of other trees.

  • This scale-free network structure, with a few hubs connected to many others and most having few connections, is similar to networks like the World Wide Web. It allows diseases, information, etc. to spread rapidly through the network.

  • Young trees are quickly incorporated into these networks, potentially increasing their survival chances. However, removing highly connected hub trees could seriously disrupt the network, similar to how removing major hubs on the internet or transportation networks would cause issues.

  • Scale-free networks tend to naturally emerge through growth processes where well-connected nodes accumulate more connections over time. However, more research is needed to understand different fungal and plant species’ network structures.

  • Mycorrhizal networks are complex adaptive systems that are dynamic and self-organizing rather than static things. Their behavior is difficult to predict and they can adapt in response to changes.

  • Radical mycology is an emerging field that views fungi as potential partners for humans to help adapt to environmental disruption.

  • In the Carboniferous period, dense tropical forests pulled carbon dioxide from the atmosphere but lacked fungi to decompose plant matter after death. Undecomposed wood accumulated into vast coal deposits.

  • White rot fungi are the main decomposers of lignin, the compound that makes wood rigid. Their radical enzyme reactions are unique in breaking down lignin’s irregular structure.

  • Fungal decomposition releases large amounts of carbon globally each year, far exceeding carbon emissions from fossil fuel use. Coal essentially froze scenes of past forests that fungi were unable to fully break down.

  • Some see potential for new symbiotic relationships with fungi to help life adapt to climate change, as lichens formed mutualisms in difficult environments. Radical mycology explores fungal partnerships for stewarding the planet.

In summary, the passage discusses the historical role of fungi in the carbon cycle, the radical capabilities of white rot fungi, and the emerging field of radical mycology which sees potential symbiotic roles for fungi in coping with environmental disruption.

The passage discusses om wood that has not yet been burned by fungi or combusted through burning. It notes that when we burn coal, we are thermally decomposing material that fungi were unable to decompose chemically through their enzymatic processes.

It then discusses how fungi are an overlooked field of study known as mycology. While plants and animals have had dedicated university departments for generations, fungi are often grouped with plant sciences. However, fungi play important roles culturally and as foods in some parts of the world like China.

The passage advocates for empowering “amateur” mycologists to help address this lack of study and recognition of fungi. It discusses the emerging grassroots movement of “radical mycology” focused on using fungi to address ecological and technological problems. The movement grew out of DIY mushroom cultivation and draws inspiration from figures like Terence McKenna and Paul Stamets. It aims to distribute fungal knowledge widely and train more cultivators through an online mycology school.

In summarizing a keynote by the movement’s founder Peter McCoy, it discusses how fungi can help address waste issues by growing on agricultural and other byproducts. It provides examples of fungi breaking down materials like used diapers and cigarette butts. The passage explores the adaptive and metabolic abilities of fungi to encounter new substances. In short, it advocates for a grassroots popularization and application of mycology to address various challenges.

  • Paul Stamets is a pioneering mycologist (expert in fungi) who has worked to popularize fungi through his research, books, videos, and company Fungi Perfecti.

  • As a teenager, taking magic mushrooms helped cure his stutter. This cemented his lifelong dedication to mycology.

  • His TED talk on how mushrooms can “save the world” has been hugely popular. He sees potential for fungi in areas like environmental remediation, medicine, and sustainable agriculture.

  • Through experimentation, Stamets has identified fungal species capable of breaking down toxic compounds like nerve agents. However, applying this mycoremediation potential at large scales remains a challenge.

  • The emerging field of “radical mycology” advocates a grassroots, empirical approach to advancing mycoremediation and fungal knowledge. This is necessary due to lack of institutional support and challenges scaling lab discoveries to real-world applications.

  • Groups are conducting local experiments using fungi to help clean up oil spills, wildfire debris, and other pollution. While challenges remain, fungi show promise as a more sustainable alternative to current remediation methods.

  • Termites like Macrotermes termites in Africa cultivate fungi within their large termite mounds to help break down wood materials they cannot digest themselves. They farm a white rot fungus called Termitomyces which digests wood for them.

  • This is a complex symbiotic relationship where the termites provide conditions like wood slurry for the fungus to grow, and the fungus produces compost for the termites to eat. It allows the termites to effectively outsource their metabolism to the fungi.

  • This is seen as an ancient precursor to radical mycology, as the termites have been cultivating fungi for over 20 million years to transform materials. Humans are latecomers in comparison.

  • The termite-fungus partnership is very effective - they decompose a large proportion of wood in African tropics. Humans have not been able to replicate cultivating the Termitomyces fungi without the termites.

  • Termites and their fungi have also had impacts on human property and structures. Their radical chemistry can consume large amounts of wood and materials. Indigenous groups also use termite mound earth for nutritional and medicinal benefits.

  • In early 20th century West Africa, locals secretly released termites to destroy the buildings of a colonizing French army outpost. The ferocious termites ate through the structures and papers, forcing the French to abandon the outpost.

  • In some West African cultures, termites hold a spiritual position above humans. They are portrayed as messengers between humans and gods or as assistants that helped God create the universe. Termites are seen not just as destructive but also as great builders.

  • Companies like Ecovative are growing building materials out of fungal mycelium as an environmentally friendly alternative to plastics, concrete, etc. They feed agricultural waste to fungi to make materials like packaging, furnishings, and ‘leather.’

  • Ecovative’s process involves carefully regulating growth conditions like Macrotermes termites do in their mounds. They use various fungal species like Ganoderma, Pleurotus, and Trametes that were shown to break down toxins.

  • The goal is to disrupt polluting industries and provide sustainable solutions. Projects are underway to use mycelium for housing, fashion, electronics, and more. While killing the fungi, the process spreads their spores globally.

  • Paul Stamets is a famous mycologist who advocates for partnerships between humans and fungi. He believes fungi can help solve many environmental problems.

  • Stamets collaborated with the TV show Star Trek to create a character based on his mycological research. This helped raise awareness of fungi.

  • Stamets conducted research showing that extracts from wood-rotting fungi significantly reduce harmful viruses in bees when added to their food. This could help address colony collapse disorder threatening bees.

  • Stamets started a company called Fungi Perfecti to produce and sell these antiviral fungal extracts. Demand for his bee-saving products skyrocketed after the research was published.

  • The author visits Stamets’ production facility where fungi are grown on an industrial scale to mass produce the extracts. Stamets hopes wider adoption of his bee-feeding solution can help save bee populations with the help of citizen scientists.

  • Stamets has an optimistic vision where fungi repeatedly save humanity from environmental crises, though more research is still needed to fully validate his bee-saving approach in real-world conditions.

  • The passage discusses humans’ long history of interaction with fungi, particularly yeasts. Yeasts have lived on and inside human bodies for thousands of years and played a role in early agricultural transitions.

  • Yeast allows fermentation of sugars into alcohol. This process was important for early agricultural civilizations and may have contributed to the shift from hunter-gatherer to settled societies through crops like beer and bread.

  • The author shared their personal experience learning to brew various alcoholic beverages in college using yeast cultures from different sources. They discovered subtle differences between yeasts.

  • Yeast’s ability to transform substances has led to it being personified as divine or spiritual entities across ancient cultures. Gods of fermentation were important in Sumerian, Egyptian, Greek and South American indigenous cultures.

  • Today, yeasts continue to be important biotechnological tools for producing drugs, materials like spider silk, and potential biofuels through genetic engineering. This blurs lines between nature and culture.

In summary, the passage explores humanity’s deep intertwined history with yeasts and fungi, from early agriculture to modern biotechnology, highlighting yeast’s transformative powers and how that led to it being revered in ancient cultures.

  • The author discusses their experience experimenting with brewing historical ales and meads. Fermentation involves domesticating decomposition through yeast cultures, and the outcome is always surprising due to uncertainties in the fermentation process.

  • Historical brewing recipes provide a record of how yeasts have influenced human culture and lives over centuries. The stories used to make sense of processes like fermentation determine outcomes like beer vs bread.

  • Yeasts are microscopic organisms that humans have sought to categorize and understand in varied ways. Fungi more broadly have been viewed as both beneficial and dangerous.

  • Classifying organisms involves value judgments and systems that may not fully capture the nature of fungi. Fungi challenge classification schemes and concepts of species.

  • The ways humans try to understand and describe fungi, like poisonous vs edible mushrooms, often say more about human perspectives than the fungi themselves.

  • Analogies used to describe symbiotic relationships like lichens project human social values onto more-than-human interactions in nature. The politics of microbiology and symbiosis are complex and ideologically fraught.

  • Historically, narratives around evolution emphasized competition and the “survival of the fittest” view famously described by Thomas Huxley as “Nature, red in tooth and claw.” Cooperation and mutualism were downplayed.

  • Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin challenged this view in his 1902 book “Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution,” arguing that sociability and cooperation were also important parts of nature. He advocated mutual aid over competition.

  • Discussion of symbiotic relationships was politically charged throughout the 20th century. A 1963 conference on symbiosis took place against the backdrop of the Cold War and Cuban Missile Crisis, reflecting interest in questions of coexistence.

  • Metaphors and analogies are used in science but come with human biases. Machine and economic metaphors have been used to describe mycorrhizal networks, while recognizing they can lead us to treat organisms as mechanical rather than living.

  • Views have become more nuanced over time. Relationships within lichens and between plants and fungi are now seen as continua rather than rigid categories, and research focuses on fluid give-and-take rather than fixed models.

  • Some still frame debates in political terms by labeling perspectives as “biological left” or “right,” which some view as artificially dichotomizing complex relationships in nature.

  • The passage discusses how the study of symbiotic relationships requires crossing disciplinary boundaries, as symbioses span species boundaries. Early scientists neglected symbioses due to increasing specialization of disciplines.

  • The author draws an analogy between their own academic collaborations on mycorrhizal fungi and fungal networks. To study flexible fungal networks, they had to assemble a flexible cross-disciplinary academic network, exchanging resources and information with collaborators around the world.

  • Primates evolved the ability to metabolize alcohol about 10 million years ago via a mutation that made the enzyme ADH4 more efficient for alcohol breakdown. This “drunken monkey hypothesis” suggests primates were attracted to overripe, fermented fruit that had fallen from trees as an energy source.

  • Some discussions and the production of ethanol biofuels continue this dynamic of extracting energy from alcohol via yeast fermentation, though now at an industrial scale with environmental impacts.

  • The passage closes by recounting the apocryphal story of Isaac Newton conceiving his theory of gravity after observing an apple fall, and notes how this story inspires the propagation of descendant apple trees around Cambridge.

  • Newton observed an apple fall from a tree and wondered why it fell straight down rather than sideways or up. This led him to think about gravity and a universal “drawing power” in matter.

  • The story of Newton and the apple is disputed and uncertain in its origins but became a famous legend that added “verisimilitude” or realism to the story of Newton’s scientific discoveries.

  • The author is visiting the alleged tree where Newton saw the apple fall. He asks to pick some apples but is denied as the director says the apples must remain on the tree to maintain the appearance of the legend being true.

  • The author questions how an entire scientific community can be so enraptured by an uncertain story. He decides to take some apples from the tree at night to make cider from Newton’s supposed variety of apples.

  • With help, he presses the apples, ferments the juice, and bottles the resulting cider. To his surprise, it tastes delicious despite claims the apples were very bitter. The author enjoyed the effects of the cider and became intoxicated by the story of Newton and the apple.

  • The passage discusses the author’s growing fascination with fungi and decomposition. They recognize that without decomposers like fungi breaking things down, there wouldn’t be raw materials for new growth and creation.

  • It talks about how this book came together through the author’s many conversations and questions about mycology. They acted as a go-between for different fields and areas of fungal research.

  • Fungi not only make mushrooms, but first must unmake something else through decomposition. The author plans to have fungi decompose and break down copies of the book, and to ferment one copy into alcohol which they will drink.

  • Fungi play a role in many parts of life through food, medicine, building materials and more. They are integral to decomposition cycles. The passage examines fungi’s dual roles of making and unmaking in the natural world.

  • It expresses gratitude to the fungi that have contributed to the author’s learning and the composition of the book. The acknowledgments section credits those who guided the author in their research.

So in summary, the passage discusses the cycling roles of fungi in nature, the author’s fascination with mycology, and how fungi influenced the writing of this book through decomposition and the sharing of research.

  • Fungi can form massive underground networks spanning miles with a single organism lasting for thousands of years, making some fungal networks potentially the largest and oldest living organisms. One study found a network covering 75 hectares estimated to be 2,500 years old.

  • Fungi play a crucial role in decomposing organic matter and recycling nutrients. They may have contributed to the rise of forests by assisting the breakdown of plant litter.

  • Fungi are found in nearly every environment on Earth from deep sea vents to Antarctic soils to distilleries. Some species can break down rocks, plastics, or withstand radiation.

  • Fungi have evolved diverse spore dispersal mechanisms using wind, water, or hitchhiking on animal fur. Complex spore release mechanisms create colorful displays or act like electrical impulses.

  • Mycelial networks allow fungi to exchange nutrients and chemicals between individuals through an underground web of filaments. This network intelligence likely exceeds that of single-celled organisms.

  • Leaf-cutter ants cultivate fungi in their nests and produce antibiotics to protect their fungal crops, demonstrating a coevolved mutualism between ants and fungi.

  • Leaf-cutter ant colonies cultivate fungi for food. Their cultivated fungus is boosted by domesticated bacteria that live symbiotically with the ants and produce antibiotics that inhibit parasitic fungi and promote growth of the cultivated fungus.

  • Animal microbiomes tend to be dominated by bacteria, while plant microbiomes are dominated by fungi. However, mammals can suffer from some fungal diseases. Casadevall hypothesizes that mammals were able to outcompete reptiles after the K-T extinction event due to their higher body temperatures, which helped deter harmful fungi.

  • Ancient human remains from Egypt, Sudan and Jordan dating to around 400 AD were found to have high levels of tetracycline, likely from medicinal treatments using moldy grains to make beers. The Iceman also used various fungi like birch polypore, indicating ancient usage of fungi as medicine.

  • Penicillin’s discovery by Fleming had a long road to wide usage, requiring industrialization and higher-yield strains. This kicked off a large search for new antibiotics by screening thousands of fungi and bacteria.

  • Fungi continue providing new drugs and have potential for more, like psilocybin. They also produce compounds used in vaccines, food additives like citric acid, and anticancer drugs. Endophytic fungi in particular are a source of drugs like the cancer drug paclitaxel.

  • Fungal melanins show potential for radiation-resistant materials. Our understanding of fungal diversity, intelligence and role in ecosystems is growing as we investigate them further. Classification systems have reflected human biases that are now being re-examined.

  • A study in 2007 found that a virus living within a fungus determines the fungus’ ability to tolerate high temperatures. The fungus associates with a tropical grass and enables the plant’s survival at high temperatures, but neither the fungus nor plant can survive without the virus.

  • The microbiome of fungi, including bacteria and viruses, influence key aspects of the fungus’ lifestyle and traits. For example, a bacterium living within the rice blast fungus Rhizopus microsporus produces the toxins used by the fungus to cause disease in rice. The fungus also requires the bacterium to reproduce.

  • Fungal microbiomes are entwined with the fate of the fungus. Experimentally removing bacterial residents from Rhizopus impedes its ability to produce spores.

  • Other examples mentioned include fungi that produce compounds to attract pollinators due to enzymes produced by bacteria living within them. A virus in the truffle Terfezia boudieri determines its ability to produce characteristic aromatic compounds.

So in summary, microbes living within fungi can determine important traits and functions of the fungus, from disease causation to reproduction to interactions with other organisms. The microbiomes of fungi are closely intertwined with the fungi themselves.

  • Schizophyllum commune has two systems that determine mating interactions between hyphae: vegetative compatibility and mating types. Vegetative compatibility refers to hyphal fusion ability, while mating types determine which nuclei can undergo sexual recombination.

  • For details on truffle sex and mycorrhizal fungi physiology/associates, several references are provided (Selosse et al. 2017; Rubini et al. 2007; Taschen et al. 2016; Ditengou et al. 2015; etc.). Understanding truffle sex is important for truffle cultivation efforts.

  • Hyphae of mycorrhizal fungi can withdraw into spores and resprout later, maintaining vegetative compatibility networks over time.

  • Fungal communication with plants and microbes involves chemical signaling using volatile compounds. The same compounds can have different effects depending on concentration or target (plants vs bacteria).

  • Some fungi that fruit truffles have never been observed during fertilization. Only maternal hyphae are found, suggesting paternal hyphae are short-lived after fertilization. Understanding these reproductive processes is challenging.

  • References are provided on fungal navigation of mazes, marine/dust fungi, fungal memory and remodeling of networks in response to environmental changes. The scale and complexity of fungal networks challenges our understanding.

  • Mycelial networks of fungi can fuse together, sharing cellular contents across large interconnected “guilds.” It is difficult to define where one fungal cell or network ends and another begins.

  • Recent studies have treated fungal swarms as unified entities rather than collections of individual agents, modeling their behavior using “hydrodynamic” models of fluid flow. These top-down models may help explain the growth of hyphal tips better than local interaction-based swarm models.

  • Slime molds and fungi have been studied to potentially program robot swarms or networks.

  • Mycelial networks balance trade-offs like nutrient distribution when searching for food across interconnected networks.

  • Selection may act on interconnectedness of links within mycelial networks.

  • Some bioluminescent fungi were used by indigenous people and miners to see in dark environments. Circadian rhythms may regulate bioluminescence to attract insect spore dispersers.

  • Hyphal growth occurs through vesicle supply and organization at growing tips via the Spitzenkörper organelle. Growth resembles a description of time as a “continuous progress.”

  • Fungal structures like mushrooms emerge mysteriously from hyphal networks, challenging explanations of form that rely on differentiated cell types. Field theories propose biochemical or physical fields guide development across tissues.

  • Hyphae, the threadlike cells that make up fungal mycelium, have the ability to coordinate their growth and development in a decentralized, non-hierarchical way. However, the mechanisms by which thousands of hyphal tips synchronize their behavior remains a mystery.

  • Hyphae transport water, nutrients, signaling molecules, etc. through their internal fluid flow/cytoplasmic streaming. This flow plays an important role in fungal development and is thought to help coordinate activity across the mycelial network. Hyphae can regulate flow direction and speed.

  • Some researchers hypothesize electrical or chemical signaling may help coordinate mycelial networks. Evidence suggests fungi may generate electrical impulses or pulses of metabolic activity that propagate through the network. But the exact mechanisms remain unclear.

  • Studying slime molds, which coordinate behaviors across their network using rippling contraction pulses, may provide clues about how mycelial networks synchronize complex activities in a distributed manner without a central control center.

  • Overall, the degree of coordination displayed by mycelial networks is remarkable given their lack of centralized organization, and studying how they achieve it could provide insights into novel models of distributed computing and intelligence.

  • Lichens were historically controversial due to their dual nature as both fungus and algae/cyanobacteria living together. Some disputed this theory initially proposed by Schwendener.

  • Lichens are now understood to form through a symbiotic mutually beneficial relationship between the fungus and photobiont partners. They represent one of the earliest examples of inter-kingdom collaboration in life.

  • Lichens are remarkably diverse and abundant, covering an estimated 8% of the Earth’s terrestrial surface. They can thrive in many extreme habitats.

  • Through weathering of rocks and accumulation over time, lichens play an important role in soil formation and may have contributed to sculpting some ancient stone monuments and statues.

  • Early ideas about panspermia proposed that life may have been transferred between planets, for example via meteorites, and lichens were suggested as a hardier life form that could survive space travel. This helped inspire the new field of astrobiology.

  • Horizontal gene transfer of foreign DNA is widespread in nature, including between bacteria, fungi, plants and even the human genome. This inter-species DNA exchange was a significant discovery and has had major evolutionary impacts.

  • Lichens have been shown to withstand high levels of radiation, with some able to photosynthesize even after doses of 18-24 kilograys of gamma radiation. By comparison, one of the most radiotolerant organisms can withstand up to 30 kilograys.

  • Lichens are useful indicators for measuring air quality and mapping zones affected by industrial pollution. They are also used in geology to determine the age of rock formations.

  • Recent research suggests that eukaryotes may have evolved within archaea. Bacteria also appear to have internal organelle-like structures performing specialized functions.

  • Endosymbiotic relationships likely played a key role in the origin and evolution of eukaryotic cells. Lichens themselves contain bacterial endosymbionts.

  • Symbiosis can result in novel evolutionary traits greater than the sum of the individual parts. It has transformed our understanding of the tree of life, suggesting a more reticulate network of relationships between organisms.

  • Lichens can dissociate and reassociate their algal and fungal partners when conditions change. Their naming conventions do not fully capture their symbiotic nature.

  • Lichen metabolites and unique compounds have human uses. Their symbiotic relationships also leave legacies in metabolic pathways.

  • Lichens can survive extremely long periods, even up to thousands or tens of thousands of years in harsh environments like deserts or embedded in rocks.

  • Studies suggest lichens could withstand launching into space and potentially survive interplanetary travel, making them promising candidates for survival in extreme off-Earth conditions.

  • Lichens are symbiotic partnerships between fungi and photosynthetic partners like algae or cyanobacteria. There is debate about what constitutes a lichen and how to define them.

  • Some Ophiocordyceps fungi are able to manipulate ant behavior by infecting their central nervous systems. The fungi cause ants to climb vegetation and bite down in positions favorable for fungal growth, effectively zombifying the ants from inside.

  • Psychoactive fungi like psilocybin mushrooms have been used in religious and ritual contexts by indigenous groups in Mexico, Central and South America for centuries. Ancient rock art depictions suggest psychoactive mushroom use may date back thousands of years.

  • Fungi that produce ergot alkaloids like LSD have influenced human spiritual experiences and fueled religious manias throughout history. Ergot poisoning may have played a role in events like the Salem witch trials. Ergot alkaloids were also historically used medicinally.

  • Psychoactive substances were potentially involved in ancient religious mystery cults like the Eleusinian Mysteries in Greece, though their exact nature is uncertain. Speculation includes ergot fungi, psilocybin mushrooms, or opium. Mushroom use may also be linked to ancient spiritual practices in central Asia.

  • The identity of the potion consumed in ancient Greek religious rituals like the Eleusinian Mysteries is unknown. Some scholars have suggested it contained psychedelic mushrooms or cannabis.

  • Researchers discovered that some species of Japanese cicadas have domesticated fungi of the genus Ophiocordyceps that live symbiotically inside the insects’ bodies. This shows microbial relationships are complex and not always pathogenic.

  • Psychedelic research is experiencing a resurgence as studies find compounds like psilocybin may help treat depression, addiction, and other mental health issues. Researchers are exploring how psychedelics alter brain activity and cognition.

  • Psychedelic experiences seem to enhance well-being, spirituality, and openness. They may help by inducing a dissolved ego state and sense of interconnectedness. However, fully understanding their therapeutic mechanisms and the human-fungal relationship is challenging. Speculation on the evolutionary origins of psychedelic fungi also remains limited.

  • Early land plants evolved symbiotic relationships with fungi in order to colonize land. Fungi helped the plant ancestors access water and nutrients in the soil before roots evolved.

  • It is hypothesized that the first plants lived partially submerged in water and formed relationships with fungi similar to modern seaweed-fungi partnerships. These relationships likely paved the way for plants to successfully move onto land.

  • Over time, plants developed thinner, branching roots that bore a close morphological resemblance to fungal mycelium networks in the soil. Roots appear to have essentially taken on a fungal-like form due to the mutualistic partnerships with mycorrhizal fungi.

  • Now, the below-ground networks of mycorrhizal fungi extend the functional root surface area of plants tremendously. It is estimated that fungi represent as much as a third to half of total soil biomass and their mycelial networks in just the top 10 cm of soil exceed over 380,000 km in length. So plant-fungal symbiosis has been crucial to the colonization and thriving of plant life on land.

  • Mycorrhizal fungi form symbiotic relationships with plant roots, helping plants absorb water and nutrients from soil in exchange for carbohydrates.

  • Frank’s 19th century experiments demonstrated the transfer of nutrients from fungus to plant, which was controversial at the time.

  • Mycorrhizal fungi likely played a key role in plants colonizing land during the Devonian period and the subsequent plant boom. This may have been triggered by falling CO2 levels.

  • Fungi assist plants in weathering rocks and influence the composition of the atmosphere over long time periods through nutrient and carbon cycling.

  • Different types of mycorrhizal fungi (arbuscular vs ectomycorrhizal) evolved at different times and influence ecosystems in different ways through impacts on soil chemistry and decomposition.

  • Plants have been shown to preferentially allocate carbohydrates to more cooperative fungal partners, indicating a level of control and reciprocal nutrient exchange in the symbiosis.

  • Mycorrhizal networks can migrate with and facilitate the spread of plant populations, including following changes in climate or soil conditions.

  • There are still many unknowns about how plant-fungal nutrient exchange is controlled and how the symbiosis impacts ecosystem and global processes over long time scales.

  • EM fungi tend to compete with free-living decomposers and slow the rate of carbon cycling through soil. AM fungi promote the activity of decomposers and increase carbon cycling.

  • EM fungi cause more carbon to become immobilized in upper soil layers. AM fungi cause more carbon to move into lower soil layers.

  • Mycorrhizal relationships can influence plant diversity and interactions. They may increase diversity by reducing competition, or decrease it by allowing certain plants to exclude others.

  • Effects of mycorrhizal communities can persist across generations of trees, known as “legacy effects”. One study found pine seedling survival varied based on the mycorrhizal communities from areas where adult pines had been killed by pine beetles.

  • In summary, the type of mycorrhizal relationship influences carbon and nutrient cycling in soil, as well as plant diversity and interactions, both within and across generations of plants.

  • Experimenting on shared mycorrhizal networks is complicated due to the difficulty of showing direct connections between plants via fungi and the fact that networks are the default state in nature.

  • Darwin originally hypothesized that orchid seeds were parasitic on fungi in their early development, which was later confirmed experimentally.

  • Muir reflected on the connections between plants and the environment using metaphorical language of “invisible cords” and networks.

  • Mycorrhizal networks act as carbon sinks for plants, regulating photosynthesis by preventing the buildup of its byproducts and allowing rates to remain high. Dying or shaded plants can act as carbon sources for other plants via fungal connections.

  • The evolutionary puzzle of plants sharing resources when it may reduce their own growth could be explained by kin selection mediated by fungal networks or sharing acting as a “public good.”

  • Beyond carbon, mycorrhizal networks may transport water, nutrients, signals and other compounds like RNA, hormones and antimicrobials between plants.

  • Bacteria can also utilize fungal networks, influencing fungal metabolism and in some cases being farmed by fungi.

  • Some studies have provided evidence for signal transfers between plants allowing stress communication or transfer of information, while others question if full electrical signaling is occurring.

  • Research has mapped out some network architectures and shown certain trees can form scale-free networks highly reliant on well-connected hubs, making the system vulnerable to disruption. Different fungal species may form separate network modules between plants.

  • The passages discuss ecosystems as complex adaptive systems and the dynamic nonlinear behavior of ecosystems. They also discuss Simard’s work drawing parallels between fungal mycorrhizal networks and neural networks.

  • Researchers argue that tools used to study brain connectivity/neural networks should be applied to studying connectivity in other biological systems to overcome silos between fields. One example discussed mapping the mycorrhizal connectome of a forest to see who connects to whom.

  • Fungi are discussed forming junctions between plant roots through mycorrhizal associations. However, some fungi can have looser interactions with plants without forming mycorrhizal associations.

  • The passages discuss the potential for “radical mycology” where fungi are harnessed to help address environmental issues like pollution and waste cleanup. Examples discussed include using fungi to break down agricultural waste, diapers, plastic, toxins and heavy metals. Challenges and potential applications are discussed.

  • Citizen science and grassroots approaches to mycology are mentioned as alternative outlets for fungal inquiry compared to traditional academic research settings.

  • Natural disasters and pollution present opportunities for fungi to play a role in clean-up efforts. The organization Mushroom Mountain runs a crowdsourced initiative collecting fungal strains that can break down pollutants. A fungus has been found that can degrade polyurethane plastic.

  • Scientists are exploring using fungi to fight viruses. Certain mushrooms like reishi, chaga, and turkey tail have shown strong antiviral activity. Mycologist Paul Stamets believes fungi could be developed as treatments or preventatives for viruses.

  • Fungi are being investigated for new materials and construction uses. Mycelium-based materials are being developed that are strong, flexible, and could be grown at large scales. Researchers are exploring living architectural structures made of mycelium that could self-repair.

  • Termites cultivate fungi in their mound structures, which helps break down plant matter and contributes nutrients to the termite colonies. Termite mounds can persist for centuries and play beneficial roles in soils. Fungi allied with termites may inspire new approaches to waste processing or construction.

  • Yeasts were likely domesticated by humans before the development of agriculture through the practice of brewing. Yeasts have since domesticated humans through our reliance on foods and beverages they facilitate. Our relationships with fungi are complex and culturally variable over history.

  • The Wassons observed that ancient Greek writings contained no “enthusiastic words” about mushrooms, suggesting the Greeks were generally mycophobic (afraid of mushrooms).

  • However, things are rarely so straightforward. The Wassons created a binary system of mycophiles vs mycophobes, but noted some nuance - Finns were traditionally mycophobic but those near Russia had learned to appreciate mushrooms.

  • So the Wassons acknowledged cultural differences and the ability of views to change over time and place. They were among the first to recognize complexity rather than assert rigid categorizations about attitudes toward mushrooms.

  • In short, while the Greeks may have generally disliked mushrooms, the Wassons found attitudes could vary regionally and were not fixed, showing an early openness to more nuanced understandings compared to simplistic binary frameworks.

  • The drunken monkey hypothesis proposes that fruit aromas boosted by fungal infestations help attract animals and birds to remove and disperse the fruit, aiding fungal and plant reproduction.

  • Negative effects of inebriation on animal behavior are discussed in Wiens et al. (2008) and Money (2018), chapter 2.

  • Human agricultural transformation, including consequences of biofuel production in the US, land-use change due to biofuels, and subsidies releasing carbon, are discussed in Money (2018), chapter 5 and Wright and Wimberly (2013), Lu et al. (2018).

  • Stukeley (1752) discusses the “drawing power in matter” or ability of matter to self-organize.

  • Ladinsky (2002) notes the beautiful aspects of the natural world.

  • The epilogue discusses this compost and how it relates to beauty in the world.

  • The bibliography lists numerous relevant scientific sources to support the topics discussed.

Here is a summary of the provided references:

  • Many of the references discuss fungi-plant symbiotic relationships, such as mycorrhizal networks that allow trees and plants to exchange nutrients and communicate. References explore the structure and topology of these underground fungal networks.

  • Several references examine the role of fungi in plant population dynamics and how mycorrhizal associations can influence competition between plants. Fungal effects on plant-plant interactions were found to contribute to grassland plant abundances.

  • The early evolution of symbiotic relationships between fungi and plants/roots is discussed, with references to fossil evidence of ancient mycelial structures associated with plant roots from over 2 billion years ago.

  • Additional topics covered include the dispersal mechanisms of fungal networks over space and time, how mycorrhizal networks can mediate competition between plant species, and the potential for horizontal gene transfer among soil bacteria via mycelial networks.

  • Several references discuss lichen symbioses and the viability of lichens and their symbiotic partners under simulated space conditions and radiation.

  • A few references touch on the potential for fungi to break down plastic pollution and the capability of the slime mold Physarum to compute routes.

In summary, the references provided covered a wide range of topics related to plant-fungal symbiosis, the structure and function of underground mycelial networks, early evolution of these relationships, and some applications regarding plastic degradation and computational abilities of fungi/slime molds. Many focused on the key roles that fungi play in nutrient exchange, communication, and population dynamics of plants.

Here is a summary of the key points from the provided references:

  • Many studies examined the diverse roles and relationships between plants, fungi, bacteria, and other organisms in forest and soil ecosystems. Mutualistic interactions between plant roots and mycorrhizal fungi were shown to facilitate nutrient exchange and long-term carbon storage.

  • Fungi can play important roles in plant defense, such as producing antibiotics that protect ant-fungus gardens.Specialized fungal parasites were also found to hijack insect behaviors and sexual communication.

  • The human microbiome and gut bacteria can affect brain and neurological functions. Environmental microbiota can also prime stress responses in plants.

  • Fungal metabolites influence plant architecture and physiology. Volatile signaling between ectomycorrhizal fungi and plant roots reprograms root growth.

  • Dark melanin pigments in fungi confer resistance to ionizing radiation and extreme environmental stresses relevant to astrobiology and space travel. Lichens and other organisms are useful models for studying life’s limits.

  • Relationships between fungi, plants, insects, soil properties and ecosystem services were examined across diverse ecosystems and land uses. Interactions between different organisms were shown to impact nutrient cycling, decomposition processes and carbon storage at global scales.

Here are summaries of some of the key papers:

  • Donoghue and Antcliffe (2010) discusses evidence that multicellularity originated early in evolution, based on fossil records of unicellular organisms exhibiting primitive multicellularity from over a billion years ago.

  • Doolittle and Booth (2017) explores the concept of “holobiosis” which views all organisms as integrated with their microbiomes and environment, challenging traditional views of individuals and evolution.

  • Dressaire et al. (2016) experimentally demonstrates how certain mushroom species use convection currents to disperse their spores long distances through passive airflows.

  • Eason et al. (1991) studies phosphate cycling between plants connected by mycorrhizal networks, providing evidence for direct nutrient transfer between plants.

  • Elser and Bennett (2011) discusses how the phosphorus biogeochemical cycle has been disrupted by human activity through mining and agriculture.

  • Fisher et al. (2018) reports on the growing threat of antifungal drug resistance in pathogenic fungi and the challenge this poses for medicine and agriculture.

  • Floudas et al. (2012) uses fungal genome sequencing to reconstruct the early evolution of lignin decomposition ability in fungi, dating it back to the Paleozoic era.

Here are summaries of the key points from the articles:

  • Is R, et al. 1996 discussed the findings from the first sequencing of the yeast genome, which contained around 6,000 genes. This provided insights into eukaryotic cell function and organization.

  • Gogarten & Townsend 2005 reviewed evidence that horizontal gene transfer is an important mechanism driving genomic innovation and microbial evolution. It allows for rapid adaptation by transferring beneficial genes between organisms.

  • Gond et al. 2014 discussed the potential for fungi to be a source of the anti-cancer drug taxol, which is currently produced from yew trees. Some fungal endophytes have been found to produce taxol or taxol-like compounds.

  • Gontier 2015a and 2015b discussed how horizontal gene transfer contributes to a reticulate rather than strictly bifurcating view of evolution, with genes moving between diverse organisms in complex networks.

  • Gordon et al. 2013 defined “holobiont” and “superorganism” concepts to describe how multicellular organisms form close symbiotic associations with their microbiota.

  • Other articles discussed specific examples of complex fungal behaviors and interactions, such as communication between fungal cells or plants via mycorrhizal networks, fungi growing in microfluidic networks, and fungi manifesting intelligence-like behaviors in confined spaces.

  • Several articles dealt more broadly with fungal diversity, evolution, roles in biogeochemical cycling and potential for biotechnology applications. Others took imaginative or philosophical perspectives on fungi and their relationships with other organisms.

Here is a summary of the provided sources:

  • Several sources discuss fungi-plant symbiotic relationships, such as mycorrhizal networks and nutrient exchange between fungi and plants. Some examine how these relationships are impacted by environmental factors.

  • Sources explore the role of fungi in ecosystems and their importance for agriculture, soil health, and plant growth. Their role in nutrient cycling and plant nutrition is discussed.

  • A few sources investigate the behavior and chemical communication of fungi, such as their use of pheromones. Others look at fungal spore dispersal and germination.

  • Several publications examine the survival and tolerances of fungi, such as their resistance to radiation. A few study fungi growth and responses to environmental stimuli.

  • Some sources analyze the traditional and historical uses of fungi by humans for food, medicine and agricultural practices. A few advocate sustainable farming methods involving fungi.

  • Several papers investigate the potential medicinal properties of fungi and their impacts on human behaviors/physiology, such as use of psychedelic fungi to treat addiction.

  • Sources discuss fungi from evolutionary, ecological and biological perspectives. Their roles in ecosystems, symbiotic relationships and global nutrient cycles are explored.

Here is a summary of the provided references:

The references cover a wide range of topics related to fungi and mycorrhizal relationships, including their role in evolution, ecosystems, agriculture, medicine and more. Some key references discuss fungi as early life on Earth, their symbiotic relationships with plants and role in nutrient exchange, use of fungi for agriculture and pest control, discovery of early fungal fossils, fungal impacts on soil structure and carbon storage. Other references explore intestinal microbiomes and human evolution, psychotropic effects of mushrooms, fungal interactions with other microbes, mycelial networks and communication. Overall the references provide insights into the diverse roles of fungi in many biological, ecological and agricultural processes based on research findings. The diversity of topics covered suggests fungi have significant influences across many domains.

Here is a summary of the key papers:

  • Several papers discuss the symbiotic relationships between fungi and other organisms, such as plants, insects, and bacteria. Fungi play important roles in nutrient acquisition, stress tolerance, and gene expression in plants.

  • Others explore how fungi communicate and form fruiting bodies through coordinated growth and signaling. Mathematical models have provided insights into these patterns of development.

  • A few investigate ancient fungal-plant symbioses and how they may have influenced past climate changes through nutrient cycling. Endophytic fungi in particular can profoundly shape plant genetics and phenotypes.

  • Several discuss the use of psychedelic mushrooms in ancient cultures based on chemical evidence from archaeological sites. Indigenous knowledge of mushroom lore is also documented.

  • Papers examine fungal behaviors like movement, sensing of gravity/environment, and discharge of spores. Fungi display complex responses to stimuli.

  • The potential for CRISPR to help fight deadly fungal diseases in key crop plants like bananas is noted.

  • The mycelial networks of fungi and their ability to communicate across distances is found to support monarchical behavior and dominance in forests.

  • A few conceptualize fungi as predecessors to nervous systems and discuss fungi displaying brain-like electrical activity when in communities. Their role in the human biome and influencing behavior/immunity is also acknowledged.

Here is a summary of the provided references:

The references covered a wide range of topics related to fungi, including mycorrhizal symbiosis, fungal communications, sensing of light/chemicals by fungi, interactions between fungi and plants/animals/bacteria, use of fungi in space and as models for research, historical/ancient evidence of human consumption of fungi, impacts of fungi on biogeochemical cycles and global carbon budgets, dispersal mechanisms of fungi, and psychotropic/medicinal properties of some fungi. Specific references discussed fungal interactions with plants like nutrient transfer between seedlings via mycorrhizal networks, belowground influences on plant range dynamics, and fungal mediation of plant decomposition. Other references examined electrical signaling in fungal mycelium analogous to action potentials in neurons, dispersal of fungi along bacterial cells, and symbiotic relationships between fungi and insects or bacteria. Methods used in fungal research described included stable isotope tracing of nutrient exchange, pressure profiling during fungal infections, and electronic nose analysis of fungal volatile compounds.

Here is a summary of the interactions discussed in the provided papers:

  • Ectomycorrhizal fungi and past high CO2 atmospheres can enhance mineral weathering through increased below-ground carbon-energy fluxes, allowing fungi to break down minerals and rocks more effectively.

  • The EXPOSE facility on the International Space Station was used to study the survival of organisms like fungi, lichens and bacteria in the space environment and their potential role in the possibility of life on other planets.

  • Fungal networks and hyphae allow for resource sharing, signaling, and communication between interconnected fungal cells and colonies through nutrients, electrical or chemical signals transmitted through hyphal connections.

  • Fungi release volatile organic compounds that can have direct antifungal effects on other fungi as well as indirectly shape plant root architecture and influence soil microbiome communities.

  • Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi form beneficial symbiotic relationships with plants and can act as biostimulants, improving plant growth, nutrient uptake, and stress tolerance.

  • Fungal symbionts play an important role in plant-soil interactions and ecosystems by enhancing plant mineral nutrition, soil structure, carbon sequestration and resilience to stresses like climate change.

So in summary, the papers discussed various direct and indirect interactions between fungi and other organisms, including chemical signaling and communication within and between fungal networks, symbiotic nutrient exchanges with plants and effects on plant-soil ecosystems, and potential roles in space survival and planetary habitability.

Here is a summary of the selected sources:

  • Several sources discuss mycorrhizal networks - the underground networks formed by fungi that allow plants to communicate and transfer resources like carbon and nutrients. These networks are suggested to be important for plant cooperation, competition, and stress responses.

  • Sources also discuss the symbiotic relationships between plants and fungi, such as mycorrhizae. These relationships have existed for over 400 million years and shape terrestrial ecosystems. Fungi play roles in nutrient uptake, plant development, defense against pathogens, and carbon cycling.

  • Some sources focus on specific types of fungi like truffles and their symbiotic relationships with plants. Truffle volatiles are shown to influence plant root development and defenses.

  • Other sources cover lichen symbioses between fungi and algae/cyanobacteria, the diversity of fungi in various environments, fungi affecting plant behaviors and memories, electrical stimulation of mushroom formation, and uses of fungi in areas like bioremediation and medicine.

  • Several sources also discuss psilocybin mushrooms and their historical and current uses and impacts. Fungal networks are proposed to facilitate information transfer between plants akin to memory and learning.

So in summary, the sources discuss various fungi-plant symbioses and their roles in ecology, potential interkingdom signaling, uses of fungi, and biological insights related to fungal behaviors and abilities.

Here is a summary of the article:

The article discusses the potential for artificial intelligence to one day outsmart humans. It notes that while AI continues to make progress, it still lacks general intelligence and human-level cognition. Experts disagree on the timeline for achieving human-level or superhuman AI. Some believe it could happen within decades, while others think it is much further off.

The article outlines some of the challenges to developing true artificial general intelligence, including mastering skills like natural language understanding, common-sense reasoning, and learning from limited data - capabilities that humans acquire almost effortlessly. It also notes that we do not fully understand human intelligence ourselves.

While the capabilities of today’s narrow AI systems like deep learning are impressive, they are specialized tools rather than general problem-solvers. The article argues we are still far from developing AI that can match or exceed human-level performance across a wide range of intellectual tasks. Overall, the article presents a balanced view, acknowledging the achievements in AI while also highlighting its current limitations compared to human intelligence. It does not make strong claims about when, or if, human-level or superhuman AI may be achieved.

Here is a summary of the provided press release:

  • Merlin Sheldrake is a biologist and writer who received a PhD in tropical ecology from the University of Cambridge for his research on underground fungal networks in tropical forests in Panama.

  • He was a predoctoral research fellow at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

  • In addition to his scientific background, Sheldrake is also a musician and enjoys fermentation.

  • The provided press release is introducing Sheldrake’s first book called “Entangled Life” which discusses fungi and their intimate relationships with plants, animals, and humans.

  • The biography highlights Sheldrake’s academic credentials in biology and ecology as well as his interests outside of academia to provide context for who authored this new book on the fascinating topic of fungal life.

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