Saturday, December 31, 2011
Yes, having the book in my hand, and having some time between semesters, I did what a scholar should do when not teaching or out in the field (looking for fungi) or in the lab; I read the book. And what a joy it was! In spite of my beef with other reviews of the book which had nothing at all to do with the book itself, I found it to be a good read on many levels (namely three).
It's educational. Even to a trained mycologist such as myself, I found much that I did not previously know within its pages. He incorporates modern research as well as historical details about mushrooms and their academic acolytes. That said, the writing, I think, isn't restricted to an audience of mycologists, but is accessible to a lay audience (though perhaps one that at least passed a course in biology). As evidence of this, a friend who is an academic though not a scientist picked up the pick and started reading delightedly.
It's funny. And no, he doesn't resort to cheap laughs so much as humorous imagery to illustrate points (such as Angelina Jolie flying through the air into a... not going to spoil the ending). The hackneyed "fun-guy" reference is avoided, mercifully. Most mycologists I've met have had a healthy sense of humor, and Dr. Money is no exception.
His views on the public perception of mycology succinctly defined and girded my own. Mushrooms and other fungi have generally had two strikes against them in the eyes of the laity. 1. They are bad, agents of sickness, decay and disease, and 2. Mushrooms are strange and magical, a window to the supernatural realm.
As to the first point. There is a common perception that mushrooms will kill you dead as soon as look at you. True enough SOME mushrooms contain toxins that will either kill you or make you wish they had killed you, but the generalization of mushrooms being bad and poisonous has been exaggerated. If you went out in the woods collecting mushrooms, and tried to eat all of them, it would be an act as indiscrete as saying you wanted to go hunting mammals in the woods with your bare hands. Maybe you'd find a squirrel, but maybe you'd find a porcupine, or a mountain lion. The potential results are the same. Maybe you find a meal, but maybe the quarry would hurt or kill you instead.
As to the second point. (2. Mushrooms are strange and magical, a window to the supernatural realm)
Mushrooms and the fungi that produce them do have value ecologically, as well as having potential application to problems of humanity (both in the sense of those problems we cause and the problems we face in our quest for survival). However we should approach these solutions with a scientific mind, not by suggesting the fungi have a source of magic that we can tap if we all just wish hard enough.
For both of these points, the real problem is ignorance, and the real solution is a scientific approach.
In summary, if you have an interest in mushrooms (which well you might if you are reading this), then you will likely enjoy this book. It won't tell you how to identify mushrooms (here you will need to fill your own bookshelf with other works), but it will hopefully explain why you should try.
Thursday, December 22, 2011
In research news, an article just came out in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, showing that the spicy heat of chili peppers is related to the moisture of the home range. Why? because the more moist the area, the greater the risk of infection by fungal pathogens, and the greater need for protective secondary compounds like capsaicinoids. Here's a pop-sci wrap up of the research, which talks about the seed pathogen, a species of Fusarium, as 'the Fusarium fungus'. There are many species of Fusarium, and they are a notoriously difficult genus to work with taxonomically.
Another article touts another medical benefit of mushrooms. A diet high in selenium and nickel has been linked to a decrease in risk of pancreatic cancer, so a mushroom omelette is indicated by this newspaper, eggs being rich in selenium, mushrooms in nickel. Bonus: reference to the original article in the medical journal, Gut.
Monday, December 12, 2011
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Frankly, I take offense at some of Scicurious' comments. And I will tell you that I am refraining from expressing many of my true sentiments. My hope is that she someday learns that her fellow scientists share her passion for their own subject, and that most of us have the courtesy not to malign the research interests of other scientists.
Speaking of respect for scientists working in different areas, I recently got sucked into History's documentary series, "How The Earth Was Made". It brought back a lot of memories of my foray into geology, which mainly involved a textbook and some spare time back when I had some. I highly recommend it, and it made me think about some interesting directions for my own research. Details to come, perhaps?
Friday, November 25, 2011
This popped up in my news alerts. In the British Virgin Islands, they have a musical genre called Fungi music. There is also a dish called fungi, but neither the music nor the dish seem to have anything to do with the subject that I prefer to blog about. It's pretty sweet though, as this YouTube clip demonstrates!
Saturday, November 12, 2011
Friday, November 11, 2011
Thursday, November 10, 2011
I've been adding a few things to my bookshelf as well, including Bessette et al.'s North American Boletes, and the How To Identify Mushrooms series. But to be honest, I haven't been able to look at them much yet. Also, I got my compound microscope fixed up, so I'm able to look at some fungi on the scale at which they typically operate (remember, fungi are fundamentally microorganisms!). Hopefully, I'll be able to put some of my photomicrographs up soon enough. Okay, back to the lecture writing. Holler at ya, later, Blogosphere.
Thursday, August 18, 2011
Update: 8/19/11. Looks like I beat MSN to the punch! They're running the story on their front page today, though with few details. Believe me, I'll tell you what this thing turns out to be when I find out. If I may stand on my soapbox for one small minute, this is an excellent example of why scientific illiteracy is a significant problem in our world.
Monday, August 15, 2011
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
On rather tangentially related topic, I've become quite enamored of the video game Plants vs. Zombies, which features both zombies (not the real but the fictionalized type) and mushrooms! I know I'm rather late to the party with this. The designers are quite creative in ascribing zombie-killing powers to an array of plants and mushrooms. In the iPhone version, you can cultivate a Zen garden, including a special section just for your mushrooms. And it's got a catchy theme song you can hear when you defeat the game.
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
So far, the group has only been found in southeastern Asia and the adjacent super-archipelago. S. squarepantsii was found in a dipterocarp forest on the island of Borneo.
Monday, June 20, 2011
I recently invested in one of Taylor Lockwood's DVDs on mushroom identification. One reason was to address the lack of nature documentaries on fungi being used in the class I taught last term. In the video, he suggests collecting spore prints in a different way. Instead of using contrasting black and white pattern (as I have done), he suggests using aluminum foil. I tried it out with these two sporocarps I collected yesterday, and both great to me, though the spore print on this mushroom is pretty unambiguously dark brown. I can see a couple of advantages to the aluminum foil technique. For one, the spores don't adhere to the paper fibers, meaning it's easier to scrape the surface to make a slide of spores. I can see where it may be helpful in determining spore color in some ambiguous cases as well, and it would be easier to mold a piece of aluminum foil around a mushroom in the field than a piece of paper. Both formats are easily recycled, so it's a draw on that point.
In other news, I found a nice fairy ring on campus that sprang up after the rainstorms we've had recently. We've been in severe water deficit here, and need the rain very badly. So it was nice to see that it was at least enough for this group of mushrooms. I collected a couple, just to test the foil method, and to see if they were not Chlorophyllum molybdites, which is what I've seen most frequently around here in fairy rings. You can see from the photo above that the spore print is most definitely not green but chocolate brown. Thus, those are more likely a species of Agaricus (which one? I need to delve a bit deeper!)
Sunday, May 22, 2011
Sun Ra was a pioneering musician even within the highly creative medium of jazz. His song titles and lyrics often feature clever word play and focus on the themes of space travel, the empowerment of African Americans, and Egyptology. His band, the Arkestra,continues to play today, and contains the forward and reverse of his adopted surname (RA), as well as supporting the idea that his intergalactic travels were like those on a great Ark such as Noah's, or that the entire Earth exists as just such an Ark.
Thursday, May 12, 2011
Thus, I am surprised and not surprised to learn of a new lineage of fungi, just published in the current issue of Nature. I am not surprised that it has been found, but I am surprised at the proposed diversity of this new lineage, which the authors claim may approach half of the total diversity of kingdom Fungi. This new lineage appears to ally with basal lineages of fungi, (e.g. the chytrid genus, Rozella), and members have been found in an amazing diversity of habitats, from marine sediments, to eutrophied freshwater, treated drinking water, and soil around the roots (rhizosphere) of corn and aspen.
These fungi appear to be capable of producing a flagellum, like the chytrids (but lost in the other lineages of fungi), and don't have a chitinous cell wall, but they do appear to have assimilative feeding, like good and true fungi do.
This is a watershed event for mycology, folks.
Friday, May 6, 2011
Thursday, May 5, 2011
What is it? We do have it here in the US, including Alabama, and it's actually a fungal sign of disease on ears of corn. It's caused by Ustilago maydis, which is a smut fungus. Smuts are basidiomycetes, which makes them close kin to rusts, mushrooms, polypores, jellies, and sundry others. Close is a relative term, here. This article says it's in the mushroom family. No, it's in the mushroom Division, if you want to split hairs, which I clearly do. But the recipe looks tasty! In here they suggest that the name is from the Aztec language of Nahuatl, meaning "raven poop". You can even buy it in a can. OK, that's soup, but I know you can get the straight stuff in a can as well.
I did try eating it once, and it is not what I'd call a good experience. I was working on a farm and would occasionally sample some of the corn fresh off the stalk, in the field, raw. A little bit is okay, and very sweet. Anyway, I found a smutted ear and tried a little taste. It was rather grainy. The smut I tried was black, which is apparently better if you cook it, while the white stuff is better raw.
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
In other fungal news, fungi appear to be on the move again. I got this through my news-alerts and attempted to chase the rabbit down the hole to the original source, only to find my library doesn't subscribe (frown). However, the article suggests that truffles have been found in an area in previously not known to have them, north of the Alps. They hypothesize the cause is climate change. Click on that link if you want to see a cute dog with a gigantic truffle.
I also learn in this article of the existence of a breed of dogs known for their ability to hunt truffles: the Lagotto Romagnolo. At $2500+, I don't think I'll be getting one any time soon, though there is a club (actually two clubs) for their people here in the US.
While Australians may have been salivating at the thought of a bumper crop of pistachios, Colletotrichum acutatum seems to have gotten to them first, unfortunately. This fungus, which causes an anthracnose, affects a broad range of plant hosts, including Pistacia vera (Anacardiaceae). The article goes on to suggest that this isn't the only fungal disease outbreak occurring in Australia this year. Blame it on the rain.
"Worm-grass" is neither worm nor grass, but as you can guess from its mention here, is a fungus. In this article, about Cordyceps spp.(though it is not mentioned by name), it is suggested that harvesting of this fungus may be threatening the delicate ecology of the Tibetan Plateau.
And finally in this installment of the Fungal News, another item that I have WANT for, a Super Mario Mushroom lamp. While the article claims it is a 1UP lamp, it appears to come in PowerUp as well.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Part of me thinks this may be an April Fool's Day joke, though that would be highly irregular for a journal such as PNAS. Orchids are notorious for their ability to mimic other organism's for the purpose of achieving cross-pollination, here's a video of some bee-mimic orchids.
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
|Scutellinia scutellata, Pyronemataceae, Pezizales, Ascomycota|
Thursday, March 17, 2011
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Tomorrow is, of course, Saint Patrick's Day, and while I don't have any Irish blood that I know of, I do like to look twice at clover patches for items such as those seen in the picture above. I know it's not related to fungi at all, unless I start blathering on about the various fungi you might find on clovers, and there are a lot. A search just for rusts on genus Trifolium yields about 1200 records in the SMML Fungus-Host Distribution Database. Anyway, perhaps it's because I spend quite a bit of time looking down at the ground for fungi that I also like to look at clovers. Observe that there are at least 2 four-leaf clovers in this picture. Where are they, you may ask? Do you think I'd tell?
Thursday, March 10, 2011
|A nice little Pluteus cervinus on an old rotten log|
|Cortinarius sp., with fresh cortina!|
Friday, March 4, 2011
Friday, February 25, 2011
|Bust of George Washington Carver outside the museum|
|Peephole into pictures of mushroom!|
|One of Dr. Carver's illustrations of a powdery mildew ascoma.|
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Monday, February 14, 2011
Let us consider the work of another great American poet, Emily Dickinson. She too penned a poem about basidiocarps, posthumously titled "The Mushroom is the elf of plants" (published in 1924 many years after her death in 1886). You'll not be surprised to hear that I do not like this poem so well. Though Ms. Dickinson was a student of botany, she much maligns the fungi. I am stung by the final lines "Had nature any outcast face, Could she a son contemn, Had nature an Iscariot, That mushroom, -it is him". To be fair, this was the prevailing attitude of the 19th century. For one, mushrooms and other fungi were considered to be plants, and it was also thought that their only role in nature was as agents of disease and decay. What a difference the better part of a century makes!
I feel as though Plath must have been intending to author a revised view of Dickinson. Both poems are relatively short works; five stanzas of four lines for Dickinson, eleven stanzas of three lines for Plath. In Dickinson's poem, the protagonist is addressed it the third person. Dickinson refers to a single male mushroom. "That mushroom, it is him". As if referring to the mushroom as nature's Iscariot wasn't enough of a display of enmity, this poetic relationship only reinforces her disdain. Plath, by contrast, refers to mushrooms in the first person plural ("We shall by morning/Inherit the earth/Our foot's in the door"). I especially admire the phrase 'our foot', suggesting many individuals sharing a single member. To me, it symbolizes simultaneous unity and multitude, another fungal oddity.
I apologize to any devotees of the humanities who may feel that I am blindly making a foray into comparative literature and sounding like a novice at best. I am the first to admit that I am not a poet nor an experienced literary critic. As a mycologist, though, I definitely prefer Plath's sympathetic treatment of fungi to Dickinson's unsympathetic treatment.
Ironically, on the cover of this book of Dickinson's poems is a flower that appears to me to be Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora), which is an achlorophyllous plant that is absolutely dependent upon fungi for its nutrition. Monotropoid plants take mycorrhizas to the next level, in that they don't provide the fungus with, well, as far as we currently know, anything. They somehow "convince" the fungi to provision them with photosynthate (sugar) from other plants, as well as other nutrients.
Follow up: 2/15/11. I just found this anthology of mushroom-inspired poems entitled "Decomposition". Clever title, that. I just hope it's better than this album of mushroom-inspired songs. I haven't actually listened to the whole album, to be fair, but the style is not my cup of tea. Perhaps, as Mark Twain said about Wagner's music, it's better than it sounds.
Thursday, February 10, 2011
Sunday, February 6, 2011
In the meanwhile, some mushroom news. In Iceland, a mushroom book has won the 2010 Icelandic Literary Award. "Sveppabokin" or "The Mushroom Book" has become the fifth natural history book to win the prize.
In other news, fungus-based plastics could be a new green technology to be used in cars. This article is vague, and talks about mushroom roots, whatever those are. My guess is that the researcher used the term to dumb it down a bit for either the reporter of the general public, and was referring to mycelium. This writer from the UK seems to cater to a bit more intellectually mature audience.
Unfortunately, the White Nose Fungus has been found in southeastern Indiana, in spite of the closure of public caves to the public. I'm heading up to some north Alabama caves in early March, and I'll be sure to ask about the prognosis up there. In other invasive animal pathogen news, chytridiomycosis (which affects frogs) has also been found in Nantucket. The article quite WRONGLY refers to it as a "deadly virus".
Sigh, so it goes. That's enough for now, I think.
Monday, January 31, 2011
Gills are found in the traditional Agaricoid fungi (with some losses of gills), and in many (but not all) Russuloid fungi (which look like agarics to most folks). Gills are also found in some polypores, like Lenzites and Daedalea (the latter really being an in-betweener), as well as the split gill fungus, Schizophyllum commune (below). Interestingly, none of the Ascomycota have gills.
Back to P. rhodoxanthus, you can see in the picture that the gills are a bit different, in that they have little stubs, like they want to fork or form tubes, but then they don't. Paxillus spp., also in the order Boletales, tend to have forked gills too.
Anyway, I hope you, dear reader, appreciate the new look. Hopefully I'll keep posting new stuff with some frequency. We've been getting a lot of rain here, so perhaps if it warms up a bit I'll be posting some of my discoveries along the way.
Sunday, January 30, 2011
However, thanks to Mycorant, I've found Fungal Visions, a blog that has some nice videos of fungal biology. One of the first ones I watched, showing the divisions of the Fungi, is quite dated, though. So, perhaps if I get another lifetime, I'll dedicate myself to making films about fungi. I doubt that's going to happen, though.
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Armillaria mellea (Vahl.:Fr.) Kummer (common names include: oak root fungus, honey mushroom)
Physalacriaceae (it was Tricholomataceae when I first learned it, but we all knew Tricholomataceae was a dumping ground for white-spored mushrooms)
EukaryaWhy should you care about A. mellea? Well, first it's an important plant pathogen, infecting hundreds of plant species, though mostly noticeable on woody species. Even though it's called oak root fungus, this is clearly a misnomer. It can also survive on dead plant material, as a saprobe.
It does produce mushrooms, being an agaric, but these are analogous to the apples on the tree, they are just a way of getting around. The mushrooms are fairly typical, with a pileus, a stipe, and a partial veil. Like most common mushrooms, the fertile part or hymenium takes the form of gills, or lamellae. The spores produced rain down and you can see deposits of them on the caps of some of the other mushrooms. Notice that it’s white, the color is an important diagnostic feature as well.It also produces structures called mycelial fans, under the bark of trees that it’s infecting, which is an important structure for feeding the organism.
But another interesting feature is the bioluminescence. This is present in many species of mushrooms (at least 70 species) and other organisms, many animals. The glow of Armillaria mellea has been observed since ancient times, and has the common name foxfire. There’s a town called Foxfire in North Carolina, and Mark Twain in mentions the boys using it in Huckleberry Finn. In some fungi, the mushrooms glow, but in Armillaria, it’s the mycelium and rhizomorphs.
Perhaps the neatest thing about Armillaria is this item. In 1992 it was reported that a single clone of Armillaria gallica was estimated to cover an area of 15 hectares (or about 37 acres), weigh over 10,000 kg (about as much as a blue whale), and be over 1500 years old. And you would have never known it, because it was underground and under bark, and much of it was made up of microscopic threads.
The researchs who discovered the humongous fungus baited for the fungus using poplar sticks, buried under ground, and tested for somatic incompatibility. Basically, if the fungal isolates were genetically distinct, they would repel each other. If they fused, the isolates recognized each other part of the same whole. Comparison of genes further demonstrated that it’s all one big thing. The folks in Michigan are proud of their humongous fungus and celebrate it every year.
But the story doesn’t end there. Later that year, another humungous fungus was claimed near Glenwood, Washington, that was supposed to be 600 hectares, 40 times bigger than the one in the upper peninsula. Though the evidence wasn’t as strong, the question arose. How big can these things get?
In 2003, a paper was published demonstrating an even larger Armillaria clone, in the Blue Mountains of northeastern Oregon. This one was found to be even bigger than the purported thallus of Glenwood, 965 hectares, or 2385 acres. Though the estimates of the age are variable, it's thought that the Oregon Armillaria clone (actually A. ostoyae) could be as old as 8650 years. Can you imagine? An individual organism that might predate the Egyptian pyramids?
Does this seem like deja vu? I just realized that I blogged about this before, and not too long ago. But not as a prestigious Organism of the Day. That part is new. I still think it's one of the coolest stories in mycology. I also think Tom Volk tells the story better, but there it is.
Friday, January 14, 2011
The fungus doesn't kill the plants though it does render them sterile, which in an evolutionary context is just as bad. Many questions remain unanswered. For example, was the Gulf oil spill an important predisposing factor? Also, is it from the G3 group, considered a different variety of the fungus, which seems to affect Spartina more frequently than other grasses? Probably so, which would be good seeing as the G1 and G2 groups affect some of our economically important grasses. Clearly, this story is developing, and it is far to early to consider what the impact is or may become.
Saturday, January 8, 2011
Came across this video depicting a bear cub eating fly agaric and having a little trip. I do not endorse the feeding of fly agaric to animals, but this is interesting and I haven't posted in a while, so there it is.