Saturday, October 15, 2016

Mushrooms, mushrooms, everywhere... a brief view of the 'shroom

  •  A Brief View of the Mushroom… 

    Mushrooms appear to be individual plants, but in reality they are neither plants nor individuals. In fact, they are the fruiting bodies (reproductive organs) of fungi. Although fungi are frequently studied with plants, they are more closely related to animals. DNA studies show that fungi share more DNA with humans than with plants! And most of a single individual organism exists underground. Although there is debate about how to define an individual organism, one common definition is “a group of genetically identical cells that communicate and act as one”. Using this definition, the largest living organism (known) on Earth is a honey fungus in the Malheur National Forest in the Blue Mountains of Oregon. It covers 3.7 square miles, or about 2400 acres of land. It's at least 2,400 years old, and could be as old as 8,650 years. So it's not only the largest organism, but also the oldest!

    Fungi exist as large entities (mostly) under the ground and interact with the roots of plants, helping to move nutrient between plants (other fungi, bacteria, etc.) using what has been termed the "Common Mycorrhizal Network" (or CMN). It's estimated that over 80% of all plants have a symbiotic relationship with fungi, via this network. Plant roots transfer nutrients to the fungus, and vice versa.

    Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of the fungi, and only appear during reproduction. Some of the ways they manifest their presence can be surprising:
  • Despite their “soft” fruiting bodies, some species mushrooms can push their way up through asphalt/ concrete.      
  • Fairy rings growing are rings of mushrooms, and at places like Stonehenge can be so large that they can best be seen from airplanes.       
  • In the Amazon rainforest (and other forests), mushrooms even affect the amount of rainfall by releasing spores high into the air, creating the surface for water to condense on to, triggering rain (article at PLOS/ONE).

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