"Our findings provide compelling evidence for the existence of fungal infection in the central nervous system from Alzheimer's disease patients, but not in control individuals." Nature magazine just published a study that claims that Alzheimer's disease is caused by fungi. If this is true, this is amazing and incredibly exciting. (By the way, I've just noticed that our very own cstross was the one who shared it on Twitter.)
How Tripping On Mushrooms Changes The Brain - "New research [pdf] suggests that psilocybin, the main psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms, sprouts new links across previously disconnected brain regions, temporarily altering the brain's entire organizational framework." [more inside]
Dr. Simon Park is Exploring the Invisible, the world of microbial art, with Physarum (writeup), A New Field Guide To The Wild Flowers Of The Crystal World, Designing Flowers For A Bee-Less World, Ghost. [more inside]
"All you have to do is take a breath at the wrong time. It will impact your lower lung, and the infection starts from there [...]. If you roll down the window driving from San Diego to Seattle, you could catch cocci while you're driving through, no question. That could happen, and it has happened." Valley Fever (coccidioidomycosis) is a fungal infection endemic to certain areas of the Southwest. The CDC has described it as a "silent epidemic"; between 1998 and 2011, reported cases increased tenfold. It's often misdiagnosed, but even when correctly-diagnosed, the prognosis can sometimes be grim: there is no vaccine, the price of the first-line drug has skyrocketed, and the treatments for more-severe cases often carry their own punishing side effects. While many groups (including NASA) seek to halt the spread, the disease continues to infect 20,000+ individuals each year. "It destroys lives,” said Dr. [Royce] Johnson [...]. Divorces, lost jobs and bankruptcy are incredibly common, not to mention psychological dislocation."
A month after its release, Naughty Dog's sweeping interactive epic The Last of Us is being hailed as one of the best games of all time, with perfect scores even from notoriously demanding critics. Inspired by an eerily beautiful segment from the BBC's Planet Earth, the game portrays an America twenty years after a pandemic of the zombiefying Cordyceps fungus (previously), leaving behind lush wastelands of elegant decay teeming with monsters and beset by vicious bandits, a brutal military, and the revolutionary Fireflies. Into this bleak vision of desperate violence journey Joel, a gruffly stoic Texan with a painful past, and his ward Ellie, a precocious teenager who may hold the key to mankind's future. Boasting tense, immersive gameplay, compelling performances from a diverse cast, a movingly minimalist score from Oscar-winning Gustavo Santaolalla, and an array of influences from Alfonso Cuarón's Children of Men to Cormac McCarthy's The Road, it's already being slotted alongside BioShock Infinite and Half-Life 2 as one of modern gaming's crowning achievements. And while it's hard to disentangle plot from action, you don't have to buy a PS3 to experience it -- YouTube offers many filmic edits of the game, including this three-hour version of all relevant passages. And don't miss the 84-minute documentary exploring every facet of its production. [more inside]
On October 22, 2011 I was arrested by the DEA for cultivation and distribution of psilocybin mushrooms.
"There is a parallel between what amphibian taxonomists do these days and what homicide detectives do. Both arrive at scenes of mayhem. Maybe they solve the crime, but they are powerless to undo it." A fungal plague is killing the world's amphibians. Hundreds of species are already gone. There is no vaccine and no cure. There is, however, an ark.
What lives in the rainforest, under a tree? Spongiforma squarepantsii! Who resembles a sponge but is really a fungee*? Spongiforma squarepantsii! First discovered in a tropical forest in Borneo in 2010, S. squarepantsii resembles a sea sponge not only in outward appearance, but "[w]hen it's wet and moist and fresh, you can wring water out of it and it will spring back to its original size. Most mushrooms don't do that," as told by Dennis Desjardin, a mycology professor involved with the discovery. * I claim artistic license. [more inside]
Mycologist James Scott got a contract to investigate a fungus at a distillery. What he found changed mycological history.
Fungus of the month, since 1997. Discover the bright aqua green stain fungus, which turns wood green, and was used by woodworkers in the Renaissance to add natural greens to inlaid wood work. Stinky and obscene dog stinkhorn fungus (maybe NSFW), like pink wieners growing out of your mulch. And many more, poisonous, infectious (warning: gross), hallucinogenic, with interesting photos and stories, for what he calls "the myco-curious". Bonus: I survived the destroying angel, an account of what happens if you eat a poisonous Amanita mushroom and are really, really lucky. [more inside]
Once the fungus invades its victim’s body, it’s already too late. The invader spreads through the host in a matter of days. . . . Just before dying, the infected body—a zombie—grasps a perch as the mature fungal invader erupts from the back of the zombie’s head to rain down spores on unsuspecting victims below, starting the cycle again. This isn’t the latest gross-out moment from a George A. Romero horror film; it is part of a very real evolutionary arms race between a parasitic fungus and its victims, ants. (SL Smithsonian article)
Nine species of bats have been affected by White Nose Syndrome so far, and it has killed over one million bats to date. [more inside]
"Indeed, 90 percent of the world’s wheat has little or no protection against the Ug99 race of P. graminis. If nothing is done to slow the pathogen, famines could soon become the norm — from the Red Sea to the Mongolian steppe — as Ug99 annihilates a crop that provides a third of our calories." [more inside]
Industrial Strength Fungus. At an organic farm just outside Monterey, Calif., a super-eco building material is growing in dozens of darkened shipping containers. The farm is named Far West Fungi, and its rusting containers are full of all sorts of mushrooms--shiitake, reishi and pom-pom, to name a few. This new application of mushrooms is sometimes referred to as "mycotecture", but the idea of mycorestoration [TED talk: "6 ways mushrooms can save the world"] is not new. [more inside]
Mushrooms Save the World (long form) -- Paul Stamets on mycelia. Previously: 1 2 3 [bonus: slime molds]
Silent spring : Deep in the radioactive bowels of the smashed Chernobyl reactor, a strange new lifeform is blooming.
Fusarium solani, a fungus known for attacking tomatoes, has become a major problem in France's famous Lascaux Cave, a World Heritage site. Authorities say it's under control, but that's disputed. "They tell us the cave's condition is stable. But that's what they say about Ariel Sharon," said one anonymous expert quoted in a special report by Time magazine. The fungus is also believed responsible for a deadly epidemic of "White-Nose Syndrome" that has been killing bats in the Northeastern U.S. over the last few years. The fungus is durable: "Authorities began spraying massive doses of antibiotics and fungicides [in Lascaux] in an effort to stop the rapidly spreading organisms. Within weeks the molds reappeared quickly developing a resistance to the antibiotic sprays."
DIY activists have been using human hair mats to soak up the carcinogenic bunker oil that's been washing onto Bay Area beaches since the spill. Now they're inoculating the oil-soaked mats with mushrooms that will break down the oil into harmless compost. See also: fungi breaking down plastics, synthetic dyes and organopollutants generally. A bit more from mushroom guru Paul Stamets. (If you're so inclined, here's a link to donate to the non-profit that coordinated the hair mats.) [more inside]
Gamma rays make certain microscopic fungi grow faster Researchers have found that melanin—the same pigment that's the natural ultraviolet filter in people's skin—might enable some fungi to harness the energy of gamma radiation as well as to shield themselves from it. [more inside]
Prototaxites, what is it? Is it wood? Is it algae? Why, it's a humungous fungus. Scientists were long baffled by the mystery organism, which was recently verified to be a 350 million year old fungus that stood more than twenty feet tall. It doesn't look like much in the hands of Geologist Kevin Boyce, but the far sexier artist's rendering gives you a better idea of what an odd geological bird Prototaxites was.
Australian scientist Cameron Jones puts nanocrystals on the bottom of his CDs. And prints fractals on them. And grows bacteria, yeasts, and fungi on them. What's perhaps the most surprising about this is that when these CDs are actually played, they sound pretty cool. More details can be found here and here. [Last four links are MP3, MP3, PDF, and PDF, respectively.]
Think you have a fungal infection? Think you've got fungus growing in your building, or home? Want to see macroscopic images of people, animals, and plants that have fungal infections? Who you gonna call? Doctor Fungus. 'Dedicated to timely dissemination of information about fungal infections via the world-wide web.'
Morel Sightings 2002 There's a fungus among us. Morels are one of the most highly sought-after, delectable wild mushrooms. Each spring, morel hunting goes into high gear in many parts of the country. This site has state-by-state reports. (mine is in MA) You can learn more about these spongy fungi here and here. If you do go out foraging for them, just remember...if you don't know it, throw it!