"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

Fungal evolution discovered: Mycena can now invade living hosts.

Biologists have long known mushrooms of the genus, commonly often known as bonnet mushrooms, live off dead trees and plants. New research from the University of Copenhagen shows that bonnets also can find their way into young, healthy trees and plants, where they fight to cooperate. In doing so, they've made an evolutionary leap that challenges our understanding of the ecological role of fungi.

Fungal spores float within the air. Thin strands of their mycelia crawl across surfaces. They hunt down defenseless hosts to ensnare themselves in webs of fungal growth. They can then be used to satisfy their must devour and disintegrate their victims. That fungus has begun to attack the living is a terrifying thought for anyone who has ever thought that fungus only feeds on the dead. Or, no less than for many who stream, a post-apocalyptic series during which humans battle fungus-infected zombies.

Fortunately, the fact isn't so dramatic. But when Danish psychologists checked out the native, often known as the bonnet mushroom, some similarities emerged. New research from the University of Copenhagen's Department of Biology shows that this genus of fungi, traditionally considered saprotrophic — that's, a decomposer of non-living organic matter — is within the midst of an evolutionary leap.

“Using DNA studies, we found that fungi are consistently present in the roots of living plant hosts. This suggests that fungi are in an evolutionary development process, unique to non-living plants. From decomposing the fabric to attacking living plants, explains study lead writer Christopher Bigharder.

Research also shows that a few of these species of bonnet mushrooms show early signs of with the ability to do exactly that – that's, live in symbiosis with trees. Unlike the dreaded fungi, the researchers imagine are primarily out to do good, as seen from the plant's perspective. This is available in the shape of a type of evolutionary companionship during which they live in harmony with their living hosts.

“We see that some appear to exchange nitrogen, an essential nutrient for plants, and carbon from plants,” says the researcher.

“Once inside a living plant, fungi can make a choice from three strategies. They will be harmful parasites and suck the life out of their latest hosts; they will hide like vultures; can wait harmlessly, and invite him first, says Christopher Bigharder; or, they will start working together.

Good deeds challenge traditional roles.

“Other fungi, for example, are known to coexist with living plants, an ability they developed millions of years ago. But they have long since lost the ability to survive without their hosts. strictly separate ecological groups: mutualistic, parasitic or saprophytic,” explains Christopher Bigharder.

It seems to fall somewhere between ecological niches.

“Rigid divisions have increasingly been called into question, and our research supports blurring the lines. Some have found their own solutions and spanned many different ecological roles,” says Harder. .

By carbon isotopes, the researchers were capable of conclude that these fungi are saprotrophic decomposers, in addition to mutualists. And perhaps parasites too.

“Opportunistic. Conversely, they can grow easily without needing to attack plants, but if the opportunity presents itself, that's a nice bonus. They also seek out living roots, where they have access to them.” There is nitrogen to do — since the fungus can easily take nitrogen from a tree — at an inexpensive cost,” explains Christopher Bigharder.

Payment comes either in the shape of carbon from the host while it lives, or when their friendly host dies, and the patient begins to act as a decomposer. Or perhaps each.

Taking advantage of synthetic opportunities

The favorable conditions which have been sought appear to be related to human activities.

“It is reasonable to believe that we humans have played a role in this adaptation, as our monocultures, for example forest stands, have provided the best conditions for fungi to adapt. Fungi seem to have have seized the opportunity,” he says. .

“The fungus thrives in old-growth forest,” says the entomologist. “In this scenario, there's not much chance of settling on living trees because specialized fungi already exist in that natural environment and others are allowed in.” “No,” says the mycologist.

On the opposite hand, human-cultivated homogenous plants with young plants of the identical age provide a possibility, because the specialized fungus has yet to determine itself. The same applies to harsh environments, comparable to within the Arctic, or disturbed environments, comparable to where many animals graze.

“These places present difficult conditions for many organisms, but these are among the ones that seem to be beneficial,” says Christopher Bigharder.

Additional information: Don't be afraid of fungus.

Recent research has shown that many trees bear the seeds of their very own destruction — or no less than of an efficient funeral director, because some fungi that thrive of their roots also begin to decompose them after they die. Are ready.

After we humans die, fungi often play a vital role in our decomposition. However, Christopher Bigharder assures that we don't must worry concerning the fungus attacking us while we're still alive.

“The human body, unlike trees, is exceptionally adept at protecting us from the massive amounts of spores we're exposed to on a daily basis,” he says.

Nevertheless, global attention to fungal infections as a threat to human health has increased in recent times. This is because a vital aspect of the human body's defense is our body heat, which is unbearable for a lot of fungi. It is now being speculated that climate change, and particularly rising temperatures, may result in adaptations within the fungal kingdom that can allow them to survive at our body temperature.

“It's not inconceivable that groups of fungi could have evolved to fit the ecological niche of humans. But, there are many fungi in tropical regions that have already adapted to high temperatures. When they're not in our bodies anyway. are, so it's because of our efficient immune system, I see no reason to fear — or at least not worry about — fungus,” says Christopher Bigharder.


Most species of the genus are small, often only a number of centimeters wide. Hats are conical or bell-shaped and appear like their common name — bonnets. Most are brown or gray but may also be white or almost transparent.

Fungi are generally inedible and could cause poisoning and minor hallucinations.

Facts: The three ecological niches of the fungal kingdom

  • Species which have specialized for living off non-living plants for thousands and thousands of years are called saprotrophic fungi.
  • Species that feed on living plants are called parasitic fungi.
  • Fungi that live symbiotically with living trees and plants and exchange nutrients with their host are often known as mutualists.

However, the traditionally strict division of fungi into three ecological niches is increasingly being questioned. There's a brand new example of a fungus that blurs the lines.

Facts: Evidence of cooperation

Isotopes are versions of a chemical element which have different numbers of neutrons, and may subsequently be lighter or heavier depending on their composition.

For example, as trees and mutualistic fungi work together, a greater proportion of heavy nitrogen isotopes are left within the fungi, since it is tougher to maneuver heavy isotopes.

Because they're released to a greater extent when a fungus has shared nitrogen with its host plant, that is something researchers can measure.

Facts: Used to seek out PCR and DNA sequences.

Using the PCR method most individuals are acquainted with for viral testing, the researchers found samples from living trees in forests, grasslands and arctic highlands all over the world. In the strategy, DNA strands are amplified when present in a sample in order that they will be easily identified.

By sequencing the DNA strands in order that a part of the code was known, the researchers were then capable of search probably the most widely known international databases of fungal DNA and, in doing so, determine Whether there are artifacts, for instance.

Behind the research

In addition to Christopher Big Harder, the next researchers have participated within the study:

  • Emily Hessling – University of Aberdeen, UK
  • Synnøve S. Botnen — University of Oslo and Oslo Metropolitan University, Norway
  • Kelsey E. Lorberau — University of Oslo and UiT — The Arctic University of Norway, Norway
  • Dima Balint — Eötvös Loránd University, Hungary and University of Helsinki, Finland
  • T. von Bonsdorff-Salminen — University of Helsinki, Finland
  • Tuula Niskanen University of Helsinki, Finland and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK
  • Susan G. Jarvis – UK Center for Ecology and Hydrology, UK
  • Andrew Ouimet – University of New Hampshire, USA
  • Alison Hester – James Hutton Institute, UK
  • Eric A. Hobby – University of New Hampshire, USA
  • Andy FS Taylor – University of Aberdeen, UK James Hutton Institute, UK
  • Håvard Kauserud — University of Oslo, Norway