Friday, December 3, 2010

I am a mushroom...

From: Je suis un champignon... / ALT-TAB.ORG
Here's a lovely little mushroom related humor. Perhaps I'm retrotranslating from the French, but the broccoli says "I'm a broccoli, I look like a tree", the nut is saying "I'm a nut, and I look like a brain", and the mushroom says "I'm a mushroom, and I hate this game".

Friday, November 12, 2010

Okazaki fragments

Sorry I've been remiss in posting for a while. I've been busy with my new job, teaching biology. This post isn't about fungi or Alabama, but about what I perceive to be an injustice of sorts. The textbook I'm using makes a big deal about highlighting scientists and their famous experiments; Mendel, Darwin, Watson and Crick (and Rosalind Franklin, of course), Hershey and Chase, Meselson and Stahl, but they just mentioned Okazaki fragments, and glossed over the fact that they were named for the scientist (sic) who discovered them. Okazaki fragments are the short, punctuated stretches of DNA that are produced on the lagging strand when the molecule is being copied.

My curiosity piqued by this oversight, I decided to find out who Okazaki is or was. As it turns out, Okazaki is and was. The eponymous fragments were discovered by a husband and wife team, Reiji and Tsuneko Okazaki, in 1968. Reiji died from leukemia in 1975. He was a native of Hiroshima, and survived the immediate effects of the bombing that ended the Second World War. Tsuneko, as far as my research can tell, survives still, and is a prominent figure in the promotion of science in Japan.

They were able to discover the key to the mystery of the lagging strand by using a chased pulse technique, feeding E. coli irradiated nucleotides followed by non-irradiated nucleotides.

Sorry for using this space as a bully pulpit to vent my impotent rage and righteous indignation, but at least you know I still have plenty to say.

Monday, November 1, 2010

More Alabama fungus news!

Probably my favorite Alabama brewery, Good People Brewing Company, has announced they are brewing a batch of IPA using a different type of yeast, Brettanomyces. This yeast (which I admit I'd never heard of before) is a bit different from good ol' Saccharomyces cerevisiae, in that it has been frequently construed as a contaminant, but is used in some instances for brewing as it produced different sensory compounds. We'll see how it turns out!

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Here's an item I'd like to get, a Mario mushroom design iPhone cozy. You can also get them for your iPad!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Perils of the Interwebs, perilous collecting

I do love the internet, obviously from my participation in it, but do find some faults in it occasionally. For one, as a mycologist, it is evident how much more there is to be explored and documented. Species list for Alabama mushrooms? Or anywhere else for that matter? This isn't solely the fault of the Internet, of course, as the direction of human curiosity and endeavor hasn't led to many attempts at species lists for macroscopic fungi such as it has for flora and fauna. And I am not up to the task myself, so I do accept some blame as well.

But I received a link to an article about a fungus that is expanding its range northward from Florida, to find that I can't tell what the thing is. It is described as "brown roy", which I do believe is a typo, and that the original intent was "brown rot". In looking up this fungus, I find that all the other news outlets picking up the story and posting it on their websites mirror this apparent error. The other name given, "Korean fungus", is also not helpful. The original article mention a photograph of the damage, but they don't SHOW the image.

What will this mean for Alabamians and their wood in service? Alas, I cannot say, for garbage in does equal garbage out, as the old computing axiom states.

In other mushroom news, fungi have been killing in an unexpected way in Italy. Not by nasty infection, not by inadvertent poisoning, not by taking advantage of the intoxicated, but by preying upon the cupidity of mushroom collectors. I would have been surprised to find Italians, with a long history of mycophagy, being killed by collecting and eating poisonous mushrooms, but this is not the case. Eighteen Italians have been killed by their secretive protection of fruiting sites, falling off trails down steep slopes or getting lost. I know many mycophiles have nearly gotten quite lost, staring at the ground instead of focusing on their position in the landscape, myself included.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Alabamians gone viral again

This was in Huntsville!

While I feel for the poor lady who was the victim of the attack, her brother is quite charismatic, especially under the influence of Auto-tune.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The End of History

This has been in the news quite a bit recently as an "odd story". The Brew Dog Brewery in Scotland has produced the strongest beer in the world, The End of History. At a whopping 55% alcohol by volume (ABV), I (and others) ask, how is that even possible?

Beer and wine are produced by fermenting their feedstocks, or incubating the ingredients with yeast, which consumes the sugars and converts them to ethanol under anaerobic conditions. Alcohol (specifically ethyl alcohol), is a poison which kills slowly, the old saw goes, though more quickly in the case of yeasts. Most beer yeasts max out at 5-7% ABV, with yeasts used in Belgian strains tolerating 12%. Even so, no yeast can survive and prosper at these higher proportions of alcohol. So the brewers engaged in what some brewing purists have claimed is foul play, freeze distillation. Because water has a higher freezing point than water (which is why the vodka in your freezer remains a liquid), if you freeze the beer and remove the ice crystals, the remaining liquid is enriched in alcohol and the other flavorants. In the case of End of History, that includes juniper berries and highland nettles.

Only 11 bottles have been produced, each within a taxidermied roadkill squirrel or stoat. The price tag is not a trivial matter. Depending on whether you want a stoat or a squirrel, the bottles were 500 or 700 pounds, though now they are sold out. BrewDog still has inventory of their other ultrahigh gravity beers, including Tactical Nuclear Penguin at 32% ABV and Sink The Bismarck, at 41% ABV. These ultrahigh gravity beers are still illegal in Alabama; the Gourmet Beer and Wine Law signed last year increased the accepted ABV content from 6% to only 13.9%. However, this has greatly expanded the inventory of my favorite local wine and beer merchant, Gus.

Friday, July 16, 2010

I don't usually weigh in on the football thang, but...

Now, I follow SEC football, being an alumnus of Auburn University, but I prefer to leave football talk to the approximately 1 million other sports blogs out there, as a case of nonoverlapping magisteria. They don't talk about fungi, and I usually don't talk about football, even though it is an integral part of the Alabama experience. But I found this too funny to pass up. A video game store in Tuscaloosa replaced the cover photo of tough Tim Tebow with an image of his more sensitive side, crying after losing the SEC Championship to 'Bama.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The cause of Yunnan Sudden Death Syndrome revealed: mushrooms

A friend of mine posted this article from the BBC concerning the lethal poisoning of over 400 Chinese people in Yunnan province. The Yunnan Sudden Death Syndrome had been observed for over 30 years, and the cause has recently come to light. A small mushroom, Trogia sp. (Marasmiaceae), has been found to produce toxic amino acids, which may be acting synergistically with environmental barium. Interestingly, the Yunnan province is known for its wild mushrooms, many of which are exported around the world. This Trogia, however, has been deemed too small to be marketable, and is eaten locally.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Matango! My Review

Matango! (Attack of the Mushroom People)
Color. 1963. 89 minutes, unrated. Directed by Ishiro Honda (famous for Godzilla and other kaiju films). You can watch the whole thing (in Japanese with English subtitles) here.
I recognized Akira Kubo from other Toho films, namely Destroy all Monsters, and Monster Zero. He was also in the Akira Kurosawa classic, Sanjuro. Other stars are also familiar Toho character actors. Also Yoshio Tsuchiya, also a star of several Godzilla films and Kurasawa classics. Kumi Mizuno, one of director Ishiro Honda's favorites.
The film begins like a dramatic version of Gilligan's Island. A ship with a passenger manifest including a professor, a singer, a plain jane, a mystery writer, and a millionaire (as well as a skipper and his flunky. Matango came out a year before Gilligan's Island.
The version I watched was dubbed and had subtitles. There were some interesting differences in the translation and the subtitles.
28 minutes in, we get to the first fungal reference. A derelict oceanographic ship covered in mold. Different colored mold in different parts of the ship. Radiation keeps the mold at bay. Thirty minutes in. We meet Matango, the giant mushroom. If only it were edible...
They are warned by the Captain's Log. DON'T eat the MUSHROOMS! They may contain nerve-damaging agents.
42 minutes in. More mushrooms. apparently growing on wood. "If you were starving, you'd eat them, wouldn't you?"
At 48 minutes, the first monster sighting. The damp! What happened? They seen the first mushroom man and then what happens?
1:09, The rain makes the mushrooms GROW.
1:13. The millionaire eats the mushrooms and starts tripping. The truth is revealed. Eat the mushrooms, become a mushroom. Oh. the laughing voices.
1:21. Apparently mushrooms are polite and knock before trying to ambush you. Is Matango a Russula? It breaks off pretty cleanly.
So how does it end? I don't want to spoil it.

As monster films go, this one wasn't particularly scary. I admit, the mushroom people don't have anything on Godzilla or any of the other kaiju. I do appreciate some of the touchs that I would expect from such a mycophilic culture as the Japanese. I did enjoy this movie more than I expected I would as a film. It tended to follow the Toho formula pretty well, dedicating almost half of the film to character development before the first tease of monster, with more and more monster footage leading up to the climax. It was easy to riff on it as I watched, a la MST3K. If you're a mycophile, it's definitely worth a watch, but over all I'd give it about 3 spores out of 5.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Birthday, America!

It is the Fourth of July, which every red-blooded American knows is Independence Day. Today we commemorate our secession from the United Kingdom, through the ratification of the Declaration of Independence (which you can read here). That's all for today, but I'll have more very soon.

Friday, June 25, 2010


Coming soon! My review of this film!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Humungus Fungus Fest

Coming up 12-15 August 2010, the Humungus Fungus Fest in Crystal Falls, Michigan. The festival pays tribute to the Armillaria bulbosa thallus which lives is the area.

spp. are basidiomycete, mushroom-forming fungi which feed off living and dead plant roots and stems, decaying them in the process. There are some situations where Armillaria can be an aggressive pathogen, killing even otherwise healthy individuals, but many are weakly pathogenic, opportunistic, or saprobic. The taxonomy of Armillaria has been rather confused, but is being worked out using molecular (DNA-based) tools. Also using these tools, and also through cultural experiments, it has been shown that single genetic individuals (genets) can be found occupying very large areas. The humongous fungus near Crystal Falls is estimated to cover 38 acres, and be at least 1,500 years old, and may be as much as 10,000 years old. The report was published in the prestigious journal, Nature. An excellent and more accessible summary of the article can be found here.

I think this has to rate as one of the top coolest things about fungi. Because this giant living organism is, most of the time, almost totally invisible. Armillaria does produce mushrooms, but only when conditions are right. The body of an Armillaria (or thallus, in mycospeak) is comprised predominantly of microscopically fine threads of mycelium, though these may coalesce and form rhizomorphs, which are sclerotized (toughened) tubes of hyphae that move resources like water and nutrients around the thallus. Dense mycelial fans can also be found under the bark of some affected trees. And most of it is underground, or hidden under bark. Thus, while invisibility comes in being hidden below ground, and also in being microscopic. And in a third sense it is invisible. In being so large that the eye could not see the entire limit of its body from a single vantage point.

However, the fungal record for largest and oldest living thing, being only the first one to surface, did not last. A 600 hectare thallus was identified in Washington state, and an Armillaria ostoyae thallus in the Blue Mountains of eastern Oregon was ascertained to cover 965 hectares, or about 2,385 acres, and could be as old as 8,650 years. As far as I know, this is the current record holder for Armillaria thalli.

I don't know if I'll make it to the festival in Michigan. It does look like a lot of fun. (I will not type "-gi" next to that, I will not. Because that would be totally corny). Cribbage Tournament!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

New rare fungus discovered in England

Multiclavula vernalis (Basidiomycota, Cantharellales, Clavulaceae) was recently discovered and confirmed in England. This fungus is rare, and while reported from more northerly parts of the British Isles, this is a first report for England proper. The genus is odd in that it's members are frequently mycobionts (the fungal partners in lichens) in basidiolichens . The vast majority of lichenized fungi are ascomycetes.

The fruiting body (like most true clavariaceous fungi) is like a fleshy tube. Coral fungi, though similar in morphology, are not closely related, but are considered allied in the "clavarioid" fungi.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Next installment of Mushrooms in the News

Really, I should call it "fungi in the news", because relatively few fungi produce mushrooms. But here's a mushroom article. Not much there, other than the typical mycophobic opening and then the praise for the mushroom. But the underemphasized lede is that you can grow morels, which had long been impossible to grow in cultivation.

The Morgan Hills (California) Times reports that this year's Mushroom Mardi Gras attracted 80,000 people. Wow! That's quite a crowd for fungi!

In other news, fungi once again prove to harbor the best tools against bacteria. Only this time, it appears the compound in question may help defeat some of the most resistant bacteria.

In the bad news department, an MMA fighter who decided to consume mushroom tea with friends had it end in tragedy. His hallucinations led to the grisly murder of his friend, who he thought was possessed by the devil. Once again, I feel I have to say it, "Psychedelic mushrooms are DANGEROUS". But so is MMA fighting.

And finally, another bit of GOOD news, some rare Australian orchids may be have a new lease on life as they've been transplanted WITH THEIR FUNGI.

Saturday, May 29, 2010


Bacteria are not fungi, although like fungi they are microorganisms. Jonathan Coulton, a brilliant composer and musician sampled a KFC instruction video to come up with this catchy gem. What I learned as Actinomycetes are actually bacteria, not fungi, and now they are more appropriately labled Actinobacteria. They do exhibit a filamentous form which did cause some confusion among the taxonomists for a while.

I like this video and song, though I'm not a big fan of bacteria like I am of fungi. You can download the mp3 for free! See under Other Experiments

Monday, May 17, 2010

Trip to the Netherlands

I just got back from a trip to the Netherlands and Belgium, accompanying my wife to one of her professional meetings. Before going I made plans to meet up with some professional contacts of my own. Fortunately, I did get to see Prof. Duur Aanen at Wageningen, and unfortunately I did not get to drop in at CBS to visit with Dr. Pedro Crous. By Friday, I was pretty wiped out from my travels and didn't feel up to getting on another train.

We stayed in Maastricht, in the Limburg region of the Netherlands, and it was quite nice. I got to eat plenty of the 'white gold of Limburg', which is their white asparagus. Though it looks like an achlorophyllous plant, the white color is achieved by etiolation, or deprivation of light. Soil is mounded up around the emerging stalks which then do not produce chlorophyll, yielding stalks that are tender and milder in flavor. Etiolation is part of the process used to produce enoki mushrooms from Flammulina velutipes. I once isolated from a F. velutipes sporocarp (mushroom), which grew in culture but not very happily. It actually produced tiny little mushrooms on the Petri plate, as if to say, "Get me the heck out of here!".

But I did get to meet with Duur Aanen, which was a great pleasure. One of his research foci has been fungus-farming termites. I got to help his students on some mound excavation when I was doing dissertation research in South Africa. I got to see his lab at Wageningen, and chat with some of his students.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Know Your Mushrooms, my review

I finally got to see "Know Your Mushrooms" (2008), the documentary by director Ron Mann. I've blogged about this movie a couple of times before, how it was being made, how it features music by the Flaming Lips.

The film was shot primarily at the Telluride Mushroom Festival in Colorado, and features Larry Evans, a mycophile and "mushroom gypsy". Also featured is Gary Lincoff, who is the technical consultant on the film. They go on a foray, give lectures, and even have a mushroom parade.
The film explains and expands upon many of the common ideas about mushrooms. The most common mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus), mushrooms as sources of hallucinogenic substances, wild mushrooms as edible and choice vs. poisonous and toxic.

The film features several quick quizzes including questions about the Humongous Fungus, and some old timey footage from documentaries and other sources as well. And snippets of interviews and talks with mycophiles including composer John Cage, physician Dr. Andrew Weil and Terence McKenna

Also, there is some speculation about the role of psychedelic mushrooms in driving human evolution, the importance of mycorrhizal fungi, and the potential for mycoremediation and mycomedicinals .

At the end, there is a message. "End Fungiphobia now". I highly recommend this film for anyone who cares enough about fungi to have read to this point. While there was little new information for a big myco-nerd like me, the material is accurate, and presents an excellent introduction to the world of fleshy sporocarps.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Cane Creek Canyon Nature Preserve

A good friend of mine from the AU Davis Arboretum invited me along on an Earth Day field trip up to the Cane Creek Canyon Nature Preserve, which is on land owned by Professor Jim Lacefield and his wife Faye. Prof. Lacefield is a geologist and author of the book "Lost Worlds in Alabama Rocks", which is a fantastic reference for any student of Alabama's natural history.

Fossils! and a quarter for scale

The Preserve is in Colbert County, up in northwestern Alabama abutting Mississippi and Tennessee. They've got the biggest population of Alabama azalea (Rhododendron alabamense) in the state, as well as lots of other amazing flora.
The Alabama azalea in blooming glory

Azaleas, rhododendrons, blueberries, huckleberries, and many others are members of the Ericaceae, which is a family with its own sorts of mycorrhizas that are slightly different from typical ecto- or endo-mycorrhizas. Read the page from Penn State for more information.

Cypripedium parviflorum, a ladyslipper orchid.

All orchids are obligate mycotrophs, and all require nutrition from fungi at some point in their life cycle. Like the Monotropaceae (split off from the rest of the Ericaceae), some orchids lack chlorophyll throughout their lives and require nutrition from nearby photosynthesizing plants. That nutrition is mediated by fungi!

Pedicularis canadensis, Orobanchaceae
We also saw lots of the Canada lousewort pictured above. Louseworts are another hemiparasitic group of flowers, meaning they rely upon other plants. However, they do not require fungal mediation but produce their own haustoria with their roots.

As for the rest of the mycota, I didn't see a whole lot out there. Pretty much no mushrooms, but I did see a lot of mayapple rust. Mayapple is quite a common wildflower in the eastern US, and was flowering in great abundance yesterday. The distribution of the rust was very patchy, affecting single individuals here and there.
An uninfected mayapple, Podophyllum peltatum (Berberidaceae)

Mayapple rust is caused by Puccinia podophylli, and is an autecious rust, meaning it only requires one host. Compare this with apple-cedar rust, or cedar quince rust which are heteroecious. I *believe* it is also demicyclic (meaning it lacks a uredinial stage)

The upper (adaxial) leaf surface, note the discoloration and puckering
And the lower (abaxial) surface, with the characteristic aecial pustules.

As the host is not of much economical importance, not much research has been published on this rust for many years.

To sum up, not a great day for fungi, but a fantastic day for expanding my knowledge of Alabama's great flora and geological history.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

White Nose Fungus getting closer to Alabama/Know Your Mushrooms DVD

I've previously mentioned the white nose fungus, which has killed over a million bats in the eastern United States. This disease has led to the closing of several Alabama caves to try and prevent movement of the causal fungus, Geomyces destructans (link to pdf of the description of the fungus, via Tom Volk's Fungi). At present, the fungus has not been detected in Alabama, though it it advancing southward and getting close to western North Carolina, detected on the Tennessee side of Smoky Mountains National Park. This article has a current list of the states where WNF has been found, and known and potentially susceptible bat species further south. In my opinion the article is a little vague on those details.

In other myco-news, the film "Know Your Mushrooms" is out on DVD. I haven't seen it yet, but it just went to #1 on my NetFlix queue. I'll let you know what I think soon...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Holy Cow, I can't believe I missed this...

I just learned from Mycorant that two of the three professors killed in the UAH shooting were fungal biologists (neither of whom have I met). Dr. Gopi Padila was one of the victims.. He specialized in fungal genomics, and was working on the sequence of the Laccaria bicolor genome.

Dr. Maria Ragland Davis was another victim. She also worked in fungal genomics, only in Botrytis cinerea, examining the secretome of the fungus with LC-MS (liquid chromatography/mass spectroscopy.

Dr. Adriel Johnson Sr., whose research was in the realm of cell biology and nutritional physiology was the the third victim.

My belated condolences to the families of all the victims.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Cedar quince rust

Yesterday it rained, which was greatly needed to take some of the yellow out of the air. The pollen has been off the charts. I took my car to the car wash and a few hours later it was dusty yellow again. But another effect of the cool, wet conditions was the fruiting of this fungus on our small juniper trees. At least I think they're junipers, definitely Cupressaceae. Yesterday the fruitings of this fungus looked slimy, like this...
and this...

But today, they've dried up and look more like this...
And this...
What is this strange orange ooze? Spoiler alert! It's in the title of this post. Cedar quince rust is in the same genus of rusts as apple cedar rust, Gymnosporangium. And like G. juniperi-virginianae and most species in the genus they are heteroecious (requiring two hosts to complete the life cycle) and demicyclic (lacking a uredinial stage). The hosts are in the Cupressaceae and Rosaceae. But clearly this is not cedar-apple rust. The telia of G. juniperi-virginianae are formed out of gall-like growths on the stems. When conditions are right, the telial horns project out of orifices, kind of like the eyes and ears of a stress-doll.

THAT up there is cedar apple rust

Cedar-quince rust, on the other hand, isn't associated with complex galls like cedar-apple rust, though it may cause branch swellings and flaky bark. It's the most important Gymnosporangium rust on the rosaceous hosts, quinces and others, according to Sinclair et al. I can't seem to find my newer version right now, oh wait, there it is! The causal fungus is G. clavipes, and it infects far more than just quince, including more than 480 rosaceous species in 11 genera (again, according to Sinclair and Lyon)! As you can see from the photos above, the smaller juniper branches are killed by the fungus, though the basal infections don't appear to be killing the tree in any hurry.

I just went out to check on my cedar apple rust gall on the juniper in my front yard, and it's gone! I thought I'd see if it fruited after yesterday's rain, but it's no longer there. I guess I never posted pictures of it either. They were a little blurry. But I do see some more small infections of G. clavipes on the big tree in the front yard. And here's a link to an even better photo of a G. clavipes infection, as well.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Red bay wilt reported on Gulf Coast

It was only a matter of time before this little ambrosia beetle brought its deadly cargo with it to Alabama and the Gulf coast. The ambrosia beetle Xyleborus glabratus is an exotic species, as is the fungus it carries, Raffaelea lauricola. The two work together to infest and infect red bay trees, which kills them in alarming fashion akin to other exotic organisms such as those causing Dutch elm disease and chestnut blight. It had been previously found along the southern Atlantic coast, and now this.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Of Allergies and the Lives of the Indoor Molds

I moderated an actual comment about fungal allergens in Alabama. I get a few comments every now and then, but almost all of them are spam. I figure the few of you who may check in with me don't need to read any more ads for erection pills and other medications.

However, Shalleen asked an interesting question that I thought merited my research, even though it's a bit out of my wheelhouse.
Please note that I'm not trying to peddle medical advice. I am most certainly NOT a medical doctor. My perspective is that of a mycologist.

Allergies are extreme immune events which can be caused by breathing in of allergens. Pollen is a common allergy. I suffer from pollen allergies, which my father thought was ironic, given my training as a botanist. But overexposure to potential allergens can lead to increased sensitivity. I often tell people the worst part of having allergies and being a botanist is KNOWING what the pollen is trying to do to my nose.

Pollen is the source of the male gametes in seed-producing plants. Thus, pollen is analogous to sperm in animals. Produced in prodigious quantities, pollen requires a relatively small investment of energy, and each has a very low probability of fulfilling its purpose, fertilization of an ovule. Pollen is analogous to email spam or phishing in this way. Even though most of it is emitted without achieving its purpose, it is the rare hits that have a big payoff that make the investment of energy worth it.

Fungal spores are similar to pollen in that they are produced in great quantities with little chance for success at the individual level. How great a quantity? According to Bryce Kendrick's "The Fifth Kingdom", a single Ganoderma applanatum conk can release 30 BILLION spores A DAY!
Compare that with an estimate of 85 million sperm produced by a human male in a day, and you can see that spores are quite abundant in the air.

I should note, medical mycology is not for the faint of heart. The number of fungal pathogens of humans is relatively small relative to both the number of fungal species and to the number of biotic human pathogens (including viruses and bacteria). However, some of those few fungi that cause mycoses (singular: mycosis, inflammatory diseases caused by fungi) tend to disfigure people in grotesque ways. Google Image Search at your own risk.

As for Alabama specific allergenic fungi, I do not know of any such list. However, a paper was recently published in the eminent Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences (PNAS) which examined the fungal community in dust samples from 76 locations throughout the world, in both temperate and tropical on six continents, and in several types of buildings. A Scientific American article discussing the paper can be found here. Using high throughput sequencing (454 sequencing) they were able to examine the fungal community in dust samples. Using PCR primers specific to fungi, the researchers were able to amplify fungal genes in the dust sample, including many that may not be have been revealed by simply culturing. The primers anneal to sites that (ideally) all fungi possess but non-fungi do not, and amplify regions that are more free to vary. Each unique variation of that gene in the large sample is a haplotype, which can then be compared to known sequences in GenBank and classified by their similarity to known values. By looking at the different haplotypes, researcher identify Operational Taxonomic Units, or OTUs. In some cases an OTU represents a known species, matching 100% completely with a GenBank sequence, but most sequences are only close matches, in which case they may come from undescribed species, or be different population of previously described species, or just something entirely new, in which case a best BLAST match can only be at the family level or above. Thus OTUs are the diversity units. Among the most interesting results are the relative diversity of fungal OTUs in the tropics compared to the temperate regions. In most living taxa (plants, animals, other fungi), diversity is greater in the tropics than in the temperate regions. In the case of the dust samples, there were more fungal OTUs in the temperate samples on either side of the tropics.

Also, they found greater similarity in fungal communities that were relatively clustered spatially than in similar construction. Thus a residential home was more likely to share OTUs with a nearby warehouse than a residential home further away. Thus, it is likely that Alabama does have a locally unique indoor mycota (list of fungal species), but that remains to be explored. Hopefully it's not much much too late for you, Shalleen.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Chanteuse Katy Perry is a fungivore or possibly a mycophage

From some corner of the Internet that I rarely frequent, I find this item. Katy Perry, the British pop singer, eats edible mushrooms as a regular part of her diet, and claims they help her keep in shape. Well, certainly eating mushrooms will help when compared with some of her other favorite menus items, including the infamous In 'n Out double double. I used to love I'nO when I lived in California, but now it's all items that are off my menu (See my post on Statins). So I'm eating more mushrooms as well. Mostly the button variety, good old Agaricus bisporus. Now I'm wishing I'd gotten some of those black trumpets at the Dekalb Farmer's Market. Hmm. Maybe next time.

Also, the mushroom ravioli were quite good, as was the tempeh I had this evening for dinner. I attempted an Indonesian tempeh curry, which was also quite good, though I made it a bit too salty. I usually don't care for sweet potatoes all that much, but I liked them in this dish.

So what is the difference between a fungivore and a mycophage? A fungivore is an animal that consumes primarily fungi, as is a mycophage. However, a mycophage can also refer to a virus that infects fungi. I'm not sure if I would limit fungivory to those animals that specialize on fungi. After all, to the fungus being eaten, it's probably of little difference whether it's being eaten as the main course or an appetizer. Fungivory and mycophagy, oddly may be even more nuanced in any differences the two terms may have. According to "Ainsworth and Bisby's Dictionary of the Fungi" (at least the version that I have, not the newest version) this viewpoint is supported, and they also seem to agree that even non-specialists may be considered fungivores/mycophages.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Dekalb Farmer's Market

I finally got out to the Dekalb Farmer's Market in Decatur, Georgia. Wow! What an interesting place. They won't let you take pictures inside, but once you get the merchandise out, you can photograph it all you want, I suppose. Up there is a picture of some mushroom-filled ravioli that they made on site, which I think I'll be having for dinner tonight. My daughter beckoned me over to the "Mush Room", where all the fresh mushrooms were on display. They had some lovely shiitake, oyster mushrooms, maitake, portabellos and what else? Black trumpets, and ... I can't remember. I picked up some dried oysters, which were an absolute steal. Only a dollar for a small tubful. They also had dried shiitake and dried morels, the latter of which were a bit rich for my blood at $17 for the same-sized small tub. Also got some tempeh, which I haven't seen in a long while. I quit eating meat for Lent, so I'm trying to get all my vegetarian protein substitutes in. Tempeh is an Indonesian soybean product, made by inoculating cooked soy beans with Rhizopus oligosporus, a zygomycete. I'm sure I'll be digging into that soon enough. But I should probably marinate it sometime soon, in some soy sauce and rice vinegar.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Possibly the cure for vegetarian bacon

Now I'll admit that I've previously dabbled with vegetarianism, mostly on a dare. Where I went into the Peace Corps I was advised to get reacquainted with the eating of meat to avoid cross-cultural misunderstandings, and I did. I like meat. It's tasty. But I also probably need to cut back, given my recent posts on cholesterol and my fight with it. I've cut way back on the amount of meat I eat, and I've quit eating meat for Lent, though I still eat of the cold-water fishes like salmon which are thought to be beneficial. One of the worst offenders is bacon, which besides being greasy is also high in sodium and other things that one shouldn't eat but are delicious nonetheless. The other night I was rolling some of my own sushi rolls, which is a thing I like to do, and I tried something new. By new I mean it's the first time I've tried it, it has undoubtedly been tried before. I soaked some dried shiitake mushrooms, (that's Lentinula edodes, for those who may have forgotten this is a mycology blog), then marinated them in soy sauce and a splash of rice wine vinegar before slicing and sauteing in canola oil. I swear, it tasted just like bacon, at least more than any of the other bacon alternatives foisted upon the people. These days, this is the best I have to blog about.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Fungal infection? Try drying out for a while

So fungi have made the cover of Science, as parasites of bdelloid rotifers. The rotifers, which are metazoans, are asexual. So the question being addressed by these researchers is, how have these rotifers survived their pathogens for millions of years without the benefit of sexual reproduction? Sexual reproduction is considered by most biologists to be a key component of evolution, as without genetic recombination, natural selection cannot act. The answer they found is anhydrobiosis, or living without water. The rotifers are able to survive dessication, while their fungal pathogens aren't. The longer the dessication, the fewer pathogen propagules survive. The dessication also makes the rotifers lighter, which enables them to be dispersed through the air to escape.

I think there are a lot of answers to the question of asexuality within the fungi themselves. There are many, many lineages of fungi which have apparently lost the ability to undergo sexual reproduction. Like so many corners of mycology, there are several terms applied to them, Deuteromycetes (an older terms), Imperfect Fungi, or Mitosporic Fungi (cf. Meiosporic Fungi) to list three. Asexuality has developed in many fungal lineages, that is to say, the Deuteromycetes are polyphyletic. Or to say it another way, asexuality has arisen several times over evolutionary history.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


I visited a primary care physician for the first time in about four years. The last time I visited one was before coming to Alabama. My blood work came back showing that my previously OK cholesterol levels had gone ballistic. I attribute the jump to getting cozy with the southern diet. Too much BBQ, too many chicken fingers. So the bad news is that the good times of ignorantly eating and drinking to my heart's (dis)content are over. Better to know now than to find out in the emergency room, I suppose. So what does this have to do with fungi? It has to do with the prescription the doctor handed me.

As it turns out, the cholesterol-lowering wonder drugs of the 21st century, statins, were originally derived from fungi. Now mainly synthesized, these drugs work by inhibiting a key enzyme in cholesterol production, HMG-CoA reductase. Some of the first research on statins was performed by Dr. Akira Endo, a biochemist, who found cholesterol-inhibiting compounds in Penicillium citrinum. Penicillium spp., besides being very common mold agents, also gave us the first antibiotic discovery, penicillin.
Endo and Masao Kuroda hypothesized that Fungi could defend themselves from other organisms by inhibiting cholesterol production, and fortunately for millions of people, they were correct.
The ability to produce statins is apparently widespread throughout the true Fungi, even the oyster mushroom is naturally high in lovastatin (link to PDF). Antibiotics and statins, two of the most important medical discoveries of the past 100 years. Thanks, Fungi!

Update-1/19/10. I just found this article, which may help defuse one of the problems with statins, the grapefruit juice contraindication. The answer? more edible fungi, of course!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

On or about this data in Alabama fungal history...

George Washington Carver died. The 'Black Leonardo' is most famous for his work with peanuts, making darn near everything with them, he got his start at the institution which is now Iowa State University, where he earned his Master's degree, and worked in plant pathology and mycology. What did he do? I surely don't know. But given his status among the luminaries that Alabama may claim (having taught just down the road at Tuskegee Institute), I'd like to pay homage.

Monday, January 4, 2010