The Underground Internet – The Wonders of Mycelium

Can you think of three things that are great about mushroom?

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Apart from being delicious to eat and an “unwelcome” intruder on the lawn, fungi could help us create new drugs and pesticides as well as pollution control. Also they could be used as famine relief since they could rapidly grow in disaster zones. Fungi are useful in soil creation and could even play a part in space travel. They could be grown by interstellar voyagers and help to alter the environment of an alien world  in order to make capable of supporting terrestrial life forms.

Fungus are classified in their own kingdom and they are closer on the tree of life  to animals than to plants. Fungus gather their own food, in contrast to plants which make their food. The mushroom itself, the fruiting body, may be fascinating but what is going on underground might be even more interesting. The underground network of fungus holds soil together and it could help to fight climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide.

1 pixel = 1.0 uM 10X objective 10X eyepiece Field of view is 1.532 mm in diameter

Photo: Bob Blaylock  – microscopic view of mycelium, the image cover a one-millimeter square.

The mycelium is part of the mushroom that we do not usually see and it can hold up to 30,000 times its own mass in water and nutrients. This network filters waters, treats diseases, makes nutrients and  breaks up pollutants. Actually the largest organism on our planet in a fungal mat that stretches over 809 hectares (2,000 acres). This mat is old, over 2,000 years, and consists of a type of honey mushroom, Armillaria ostoyae

Mycologist Paul Sta​mets, author of the book, Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World, refers to mycelium as “nature’s internet”. Mycelium like cottony fluff or cobwebs but if you look through an electron microscope, you can see an intricate branching thread like structure, Paul says that this looks like a network of brain cells. And there are many similarities between mycelium and brain cells, for example, they both grow new connections, and prune existing ones. One part of the mycelium can send signals to another part to send nutrients. There can be a long distance between the parts that can be even hundreds of metres away.

The way mycelium carries nutrients and information is similar to the way that data is transported across the world via the Internet. Paul even goes a step further and he suggests that we may be able to communicate and exchange information with this network of myceillum.

The video below is from Fantastic Fungi a great site if you want to learn more about fungi. The eBook is warmly recommended, which you get it for free if you subscribe.

Go here to read more blog posts about fungi.