Recent monitoring work on the devasted ruin of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant has noted significant fungal growth on the walls of inner sanctum of the ruin of the power plant. Over 37 species have been recorded mainly of deuteromycetes. Some species like Alternaria alternata, Cladosporium sphaerospermum and Penicillum hirsutum were found more typically in the severely contaminated areas and it is suggested in the research that they may be active biodestructors of extremely radioactive substrates. The radiation levels there are about 10000 times that that would be fatal in humans! For full details of this research, see Zhdanova, N., Zakonechnaya, V.A., Vember, V.V. & Nakonechnaya, L.T.: Fungi from Chernobyl. Mycological Research 104 (2000), p.1421-1426.

The native American Indians from Alaska and Western Canada regularly mix the ashes of Phellinus igniarius with finely chopped tobacco to create a curious mixture that gave a powerful kick if used as chewing tobacco.  Phellinus igniarius was traded regularly between different tribes and ornate Fungus Ash Boxes were carved from bone, wood and ivory to carry the concoction. This practice is still very popular in Alaska and the Yukon and between 50-80% of the populations in some areas use it. The problem is that it is extremely bad for the user. The fungus ash contains high concentrations of magnesium, potassium, calcium and phosphorus and elevated levels of other heavy metals. These metals raise the pH which in turn increases the amount of nicotine absorbed by the body (resulting in the powerful kick). Nicotine poisoning can result. In these areas, the cases of cancer, hypertension and strokes are very high and health campaigns are now taking place to try to get people to stop this practice.

Source: Blanchette, R. (2001) Fungus ashes and Tobacco. Mycologist Vol 15 (1) 4-8 and Blanchette, R. et al. (2002) The current use of Phellinus igniarius by the Eskimos of Western Alaska. Mycologist Vol 16 (4) p142-145.

Red Squirrels as well as some of us here in the UK have a taste for wild fungi. This was shown in 1995 when Scottish Natural Heritage sent the stomach contents of Red Squirrels to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh. They searched the stomach contents for fungal spores and came up with some surprises. The Red Squirrels have a taste for truffles, true and false, found underground. They had been eating the true truffles, Elaphomyces muricatus, and the rarer Hydnotrya tulasnei, the false truffles, Melanogaster ambiguus and Rhizopogon roseolus, the Pea Truffle, Endogne flammicorona and even spores of a Bolete, probably Leccinum sp. This is interesting as the Dutch common name for the Cep, Boletus edulis, translated is "Squirrel's Bread". The most commonly eaten fungi were Melanogaster ambiguus and Endogne flammicorona. Only Red Squirrels were examined, so it would be curious to know if Grey Squirrels also eat fungi and also which species they eat in Ireland as truffles are only rarely recorded here (probably because very few people look for them). Indeed the only one of these truffles so far recorded in Northern Ireland is Elaphomyces muricatus.

Source: Turnbull, E. (1995) Not only nuts in May.... Mycologist Vol 9 (2) 82-83. 

Scientists have discovered that a single-celled organism can negotiate the
shortest way through a maze. It means that some of the lowliest creatures in the plant and animal kingdoms, such as slime and amoeba, may not be as primitive as once thought.
Pieces of slime mould, an amoeba-like organism, were enticed through a 30-square-centimetre (five-square-inch) maze by the prospect of food at the end of the puzzle. The researchers believe the slime is exhibiting some form of primitive intelligence. Toshiyuki Nakagaki of the Bio-Mimetic Control Research Centre, Nagoya, Japan, placed pieces of the slime mould Physarum polycephalum in an agar gel maze comprising four possible routes. Normally, the slime spreads out its network of tube-like 'legs', called pseudopodia, to fill all the available space. But when two pieces of food were placed at separate exit points in the labyrinth, the organism squeezed its entire body between the two nutrients. It adopted the shortest possible route, effectively solving the puzzle.

Announcing their findings in the journal Nature, the researchers say they believe the organism changed its shape to maximise its foraging efficiency and therefore its chances of survival. The meal of ground oat flakes led to a local increase in contraction of the organism's tube-like structures, propelling it towards the food. "This remarkable process of cellular computation implies that cellular materials can show a primitive intelligence," the team writes in Nature. 

Slime mould is one of a group of single- to multi-celled organisms traditionally classified as fungi but having characteristics of both plants and animals. They reproduce by spores, but their cells can move like an amoeba and they feed by taking in particles of food. Some types of slime mould are the bane of gardeners, forming a jelly-like surface on grass.

Source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/sci/tech/newsid_944000/944790.stm

Fossils dating back 460 million years show that plants may have had friendly allies, in the form of fungi, helping them make the move to land from the sea, scientists said on Thursday. Virtually all green land plants have partnerships with fungi today. Threadlike fungi grow in and around the roots of plants, helping them absorb minerals and water.

But what happened when plants first left the water for the land hundreds of millions of years ago is less clear. Linda Graham, a professor of botany and environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and her students were examining shale taken from a road cut near the school. Etching them with acid, they found tiny structures that looked like fossilized fungal spores.

Dirk Redecker, doing post doctoral work at the University of California Berkeley and an expert in the evolution of fungi, confirmed their suspicions. Further examination turned up imprints of the threadlike hairs of fungi. This dates fungi to the same time that land plants first started appearing. They may have soon started working together, Redecker said. "The presence of both organisms at the same time suggests that there could have been such an interaction, and that organisms even then were interdependent,'' Redecker said in a statement.

"It's evidence that this fungal group was already present when the evolution of the land plants was at a very early stage,'' he added in a telephone interview. Redecker stresses that no evidence has been found that these early, tiny fungi were living in the roots of plants. "We only found the fungi. We didn't show an association of the plants and fungi at the time,'' he said.

But studies done of fossils that date to 60 million years later suggest that plants and fungi had teamed up by then. The study, published in the journal Science, suggests that fungi had already evolved on land when plants first moved there, and were ready to form their alliance, Redecker said. The fungi found in the Wisconsin shale looked like those in the modern-day Glomus genus, Redecker said. He said it is not apparent what the fungi evolved from. ''The fossils were found in a shale marine setting. It's not quite clear if they were growing on land or in the seas,'' he said. "But the similarity to present-day
fungi suggests they were growing on the land.''

Fungi as a kingdom are much older than plants. No one is sure what they evolved from, Redecker said. The first land plants were very simple organisms, he said -- much like modern day liverworts. Just as animals have become more complex, plants developed complicated systems as the eons passed. They also teamed up with other species such as bacteria, which help legumes such as beans and peas "fix'' nitrogen -- an important nutrient for plants.

Reported by Yahoo Science News, September 14 2000

ABC News reported the following item on 4 AUG 2000 (see http://www.abcnews.go.com/wire/US/ap20000804_1237.html)


Beneath the soil of the Malheur National Forest in eastern Oregon, a
fungus that has been slowly weaving its way through the roots of trees for
centuries has become the largest living organism ever found.  The
Armillaria ostoyae, popularly known as the honey mushroom, started from a
single spore too small to see without a microscope and has been spreading
its black shoestring filaments called rhizomorphs through the forest for
an estimated 2,400 years, killing trees as it grows.  It now covers 2,200
acres.

"We ended up having on the landscape this humongous fungus," Tina
Dreisbach, a botanist and mycologist at the U.S.  Forest Service"s Pacific
Northwest Research Station in Corvallis, Ore., said Friday.  In 1992,
another Armillaria ostoyae was found in Washington state covering 1,500
acres near Mount Adams, making it the largest known organism at the time.
"We just decided to go out looking for one bigger than the last claim,"
said Gregory Filip, associate professor of integrated forest protection at
Oregon State University and an expert in Armillaria.  "There hasn"t been
anything measured with any scientific technique that has shown any plant
or animal to be larger than this."

Forest Service scientists are interested in learning to control Armillaria
because it kills trees, Filip said, but they also realize the fungus has
served a purpose in nature for millions of years.  The outline of the
giant fungus, strikingly similar to a mushroom, stretches 3.5 miles
across, and it extend an average of three feet into the ground.  It covers
an area as big as 1,665 football fields.  No one has estimated its weight.

The discovery came after Catherine Parks, a scientist at the Pacific
Northwest Research Station in La Grande, Ore., in 1998 heard about a big
tree die-off from root rot in the forest east of Prairie City, Ore.  Using
aerial photos, Parks staked out an area of dying trees and collected root
samples from 112.  She identified the fungus through DNA testing.  Then,
by comparing cultures of the fungus grown from the 112 samples, she
determined that 61 were from the same organism, meaning a single fungus
had grown bigger than anything anyone had ever described before.  On the
surface, the only evidence of the fungus are clumps of golden mushrooms
that pop up in the fall with the rain.  "They are edible, but they don"t
taste the best," said Dreisbach.  "I would put lots of butter and garlic
on them."

Digging into the roots of an affected tree, something that looks
like white latex paint can be seen.  These are mats of mycelium, which
draw water and carbohydrates from the tree to feed the fungus and
interfere with the tree"s absorption of water and nutrients.  The long
rhizomorphs that stretch as much as 10 feet into the soil invade tree
roots through a combination of pressure and enzyme action.

The huge size of the fungus may be related to the dry climate in eastern
Oregon, Dreisbach said Friday.  Spores have a hard time establishing new
organisms, making room for the old-timers to spread.


For more than 2000 years, mushrooms have been a crucial part of Chinese traditional medicine. They have been used to stimulate the immune system rather than treating specific diseases. The four mushrooms that are regarded as the "upper class" of drugs are Ganoderma lucidum, Grifolia umbellata, Poria cocos and Cordyceps sinensis. They are rated in this group along with Ginseng and Astragalus. This group of emperor medicines are not toxic and taking them in large quantities over a long period of time will do wonders for the body. For instance, Ganoderma lucidum has important anti-allergic and anti-inflammatory properties. It has been shown to inhibit histamine release and is very good for cases of allergic asthma. It also calms the mind and is thus good in cases of tiredness and insomnia. Coriolus versicolor  is another important medicine and is used to nourish the mind in cases where mental function has become weak. It is good for lung disorders, tiredness and chronic diseases. Grifolia umbellata is good for oedema, urinary difficulties and diarrhoea amongst other things. 

Chinese medicine believes that many mushrooms like the Agaricus we buy in the shops create damp in the body which means in turn that Candida albicans flourishes. This internal plague causes all sorts of stomach problems, chronic tiredness and thrush and sufferers should not eat ordinary mushrooms for this reason. However, these emperor medicines alleviate these conditions and should be sought out. Source: Mycology News Vol 1, Edition 2 ( a newsletter produced by Mycology Research Laboratories)

 

Mushrooms are low in protein, but are a good source (especially for vegetarians) of Vitamin B12. This is essential for creating red blood cells and helps against anxiety, stress and depression. Their zinc content is good against fatigue and shi-take is known for its immune boosting properties. However, non-organic mushrooms have some of the highest residues of fungicides and pesticides of any food. As well as the crop being sprayed, the compost and the sheds are also treated. Source: Organic Superfoods by Michael van Straten. 

Two species of Phytophytora, relatives of the Potato Blight, have hybridised in Europe and this hybrid is killing Alder trees in large quantities. England, Wales, Sweden, France, the Netherlands, Germany and Austria are just some of the countries affected with over 10 percent of the Alders in southern England and Wales having been killed. Neither of the two species of Phytophytora are native to Europe so they have no barriers preventing reproduction as they have not evolved together. One species affects trees, but not Alders and the other causes a blight of strawberries and raspberries. It also appears that the hybrid is very recent creation and is still evolving. It destroys the bark around the base of the trees. Have you seen Alders affected by this pathogen? If so contact us at info@nifg.co.uk Source: New Scientist, 15 May 1999

Researchers in America have found that the Pythium fungi that colonise the roots of the Black Cherry, Prunus serotina, kill any other Black Cherry saplings that attempt to grow within 15m of their tree. The saplings of other trees are not affected creating a woodland high in diversity. Source: New Scientist, 18 March 2000

Cyttaria sp.

There are a group of ascomycetes, Cyttaria spp. that garnish the Southern Beech trees, Nothofagus, of the forests of Patagonia. These fungi cause large swellings on the tree and fruit from these swellings. They are the size of golf balls. The local indians and passing sailors ate these tasty fungi even though they have a slimy texture. There are only six species of Cyttaria and they are so unique that they are in an Order of their own. They parasitise the trees and the galls or swellings they cause ruins the timber quality of the tree. However, if the galls are sectioned, they reveal beautiful patterns and some of the best coffee tables you can ever find are made from sections through one of these galls. Source: Minter, D., Cannon, P. & Peredo, H. South American Species of Cyttaria. Mycologist

Oetzi the Iceman or the Neolithic man found high on the glaciers of Italy (or was it Austria?) died about 5300 years ago. Hanging around his neck were pieces of the Birch Polypore, Piptoporus betulinus. This fungus is also known as the Razor Strop Fungus and was used until recently to sharpen razors. Strips of the fungus were nailed to a wall with the pore surface outwards and then razors were sharpened by brushing the razors across the surface of the fungus. So what was Oetzi doing with it? Was he using it to sharpen his arrows or did he have it to get a fire going as it is known to smoulder for a long time, making it useful to get fires started again. Or was he using it as a styptic to stop bleeding - another property of this common fungus. Whatever he was using it for, it just shows how much Neolithic man knew about his environment. Source: Pegler, D. Useful Fungi of the World: some uses of Bracket Fungi Mycologist, Vol14, pt 1, Feb 2000.

Researchers in Canada have traced the transfer of Carbon from one tree to another via fungal mycelia that connect tree to tree. Many trees form ectomycorrhizal relationships with fungi where the fungus forms a sheath around the root tip. The tree gains in that the fungus helps it take up nutrients from the soil and protect it against pathogens in the soil. The Fungus gains in that it gets carbon from the tree. However, this research has shown that carbon photosynthesized from a birch tree on the edge of the wood was transferred to a douglas fir in a darker part of the wood. Trees in such a situation often struggle because they are shaded out by mature trees, so this represents a crafty way to get its carbon and demonstrates the pivotal nature of fungi in a woodland. Source: Simard S. et al (1997) Net Transfer of carbon between ectomycorrhizal tree species in the field. Nature Vol.388, p579-582

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