I, for one, welcome our new mycological overlords
December 31, 2008 6:54 PM   Subscribe

Mushrooms Save the World (long form) -- Paul Stamets on mycelia. Previously: 1 2 3 [bonus: slime molds]
posted by kliuless (20 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
At first I read that name as "Paul Stanley".

The remainder is left as an exercise for the student.
posted by Joe Beese at 6:59 PM on December 31, 2008

Slime molds aren't fungi - they're something older and weirder. They're unicellular organisms... which isn't the same as a single-cell organism! They share one cell membrane that encapsulates myriads of nucleii and other cellular structures. Much of the time, these undivided cells act together like a giant amoeba, and look like oozing patches of slime as they quest for food (hence the name). Once they find a nice food source, they all form up into the beautiful structures pictured in the link, organizing themselves into complex digestive and reproductive organs. Once the food is gone, or the environment becomes uncomfortable, they revert back to an oozing blob, and move on to the next bit of rotting vegetable matter.

Fungi are closer to animal than vegetable (or slime) - their cell walls contain chitin, the same stuff in bug carapaces.

Awesome link! I want a pet slime-mold...
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:33 PM on December 31, 2008

I seem to recall Mr. Stamets was a big proponent of hallucinogenic 'shrooms back in the day, then he saw the writing on the wall after Leary et al and went legit. Don't quote me, I'm notoriously loose with details.
But yeah, fungus and molds perform such essential tasks, and have an amazing ability to adapt. I've read about fungus at Chernobyl eating radiation for energy. How about we pack some waste barrels with that stuff?

When I hike I always make a point of stopping and checking out any interesting growths. They're a close second to deep sea life forms in the category of {Stuff That Looks Like It's Alien}.
posted by Mr. Crowley at 7:43 PM on December 31, 2008

Actually, I think you have it backwards Slap*Happy, I think the slime mold cells function autonomously when there is a lot of food, and when they run out, the cells coagulate into a single organism that can move around. And eventually they will form into a sort of spore.

Here is a good article about them on Carl Zimmer's blog.
Scoop up some dirt, and you'll probably wind up with some slime mold. Many species go by the common name of slime mold, but the ones scientists know best belong to the genus Dictyostelium. They are amoebae, and for the most part they live the life of a rugged individualist. Each slime mold prowls through the soil, searching for bacteria which it engulfs and digests. After gorging itself sufficiently, it divides in two, and the new pair go their separate, bacteria-devouring ways. But if the Dictyostelium in a stamp-size plot of soil should eat their surroundings clean, they send each other alarm signals. They then use the signals to steer toward their neighbors, and as many as a million amoebae converge in a swirling mound. The mound itself begins to act as if it were a single organism....
posted by delmoi at 7:44 PM on December 31, 2008

That was interesting. In the TED video he touches on using fungi for contaminated soil treatment, anti-virals (not just anti-bacterials), insect control, forest restoration, and at the end, "econol" – generating ethanol from cellulose using mycelium as an intermediary.
posted by D.C. at 7:48 PM on December 31, 2008

i thought the guy was pretty vague and rather self-indulgent.
posted by brandz at 9:10 PM on December 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

Nice post, I enjoyed your links. If you like fungi, I highly recommend you get one of those prepackaged mushroom growing kits and grow some gourmet stuff. It is really easy.

I have bough 4 copies of Stamet's mushroom cultivation book. One for every country I've lived in. No need to take it through customs. His book was the bible for many amateur mushroom growers I knew, but once a critical mass was reached on online forums, the state of the art advanced faster than he could keep up. The books is still a very good resource, specially the decision table at the end to identify contaminants, at one point I was preparing growing media and taking it with me on walks just to see what "bad" mold and fungus I could get ( I was once the proud owner of a jar of Aspergillus flavus, the non-radioactive poison of choice for international spies).

In the late 90s I got a video of one of his talks. He was disparaging the amateurs on the internet, telling the audience of the need to buy expensive equipment (which can be bought through him) and following long tedious procedures. The amateurs I knew were having 200% to 250% of Stamet's bets yields, using garbage bags, cardboard boxes and cheap aquarium equipment.

As I just posted on another thread, tonight, in the middle of San Francisco, I found a patch of what I am pretty confident was Amanita muscaria (It was dark, with sodium lamps in the distance, they could have been red, yellow or orange). The area covered by the mycelium was pretty big, and I managed to take pictures of every stage of fungal development, from the mycelium where the ground had been disturbed to pinheads poking through the mulch, immature mushrooms still veiled and old rotting mature ones.

Mushroom watching is my birdwatching, and like birdwatching, the deeper you go, the more you start noticing, and the more exciting any walk outside becomes. That Amanita patch was my new years present, and I like what it augurs.

On preview, did I just make an etymological pun in the last paragraph? I am a fun guy like that.
posted by dirty lies at 12:31 AM on January 1, 2009 [5 favorites]

I suck at posting, I forgot to mention the best part of the mushrooms I found today. They were growing right next to a patch of some brown mushrooms, the mushrooms of both kinds closer to the border between the patches were all sickly, and there where a couple of islands of one species in the middle of the other. With a little digging, one could see that the mycelia of both species did not quite touch, there was a dead zone between them. Biochemical warfare right in under your feet.
posted by dirty lies at 12:35 AM on January 1, 2009 [3 favorites]

Weird. I just watched this again last night ( I know. I live the wild life watching TED videos on New Years Eve). I've got a great crazy english backyard garden but the highlight for me is that I get lots of fungal activity on a 3.5 foot high stump and frequent mushroom growth in the lawn after a few days rain. I'd love to know how to get more activity because mushrooms are so otherworldly.

I spent a week on skye in 2007 and was amazed at how mushrooms could colonize sheep shit almost instantly. This is a picture from the middle of an asphalt road where the poop would probably get run over in a day or two.
posted by srboisvert at 3:32 AM on January 1, 2009

This are the ones I saw tonight, I live the wild life taking flash pictures of poisonous mushrooms in other people's private property on New Years Eve.
posted by dirty lies at 4:06 AM on January 1, 2009

srboisvert: One way to get more activity, which I have tested with moderate success, is to make spore prints of mushrooms you like, put the spores in distilled water and use an atomizer to spray everywhere you think that particular mushroom will grow.

Take into account that mushrooms like very particular conditions, many live in symbiotic relationships with other organisms, and some can take years to colonize their susbtrate before you see any actual mushrooms.
posted by dirty lies at 4:11 AM on January 1, 2009

Yep, the red ones are AM's alright.

The clumped brown mushrooms growing on the tree are honey's. Armillaria.

So, ah, where did you see those shaggy parasols?
posted by telstar at 4:28 AM on January 1, 2009

So the clumped brown ones are the ones that taste just like maple syrup?

The shaggy ones have been showing up for years a block away from my mother's house in Guadalajara, Mexico. I took the picture last time I was there, sometime in the spring of summer. All the rest are in the same lawn. Is there anything special about those shaggy mushrooms?
posted by dirty lies at 4:43 AM on January 1, 2009

Mushrooms saved me from a world of pain.

The psilocybin found in certain species of mushroom just might be a very effective treatment for cluster headache, nastiest headache there is.

A few to half a dozen doses, each less than half of what's needed to get high, and each taken a week apart, can completely suppress a cycle of cluster headaches. Take a few doses before the cycle starts (cycles generally last 1-6 months) and the cycle might not show up at all.

Substances similar to psilocybin seem to work, too. Some can get you real high, some not so much, but they're all illegal. Similar substances, man-made and natural, in the indole ring hallucinogen family work, too, maybe better than any legally-available pharmaceutical.

Reports are anecdotal so far, but clinical trials are being organized.
posted by tommyD at 5:54 AM on January 1, 2009

dirty lies: .. you are in SF? Have I met you?! Do you go to MSSF meetings? Small world!

Sadly I have not been out looking for mushrooms in a bit. But since the wintery ones are finally coming up around here, I should go out ...
posted by R343L at 3:48 PM on January 1, 2009

I am in SF, but I am not a member of any society. I am just the kind of person that walks with their head down, staring at their shoes, and that is how I became interested in fungi, earthworms, bugs and small plants.
posted by dirty lies at 5:10 PM on January 1, 2009

Oh. Eponysterical.
posted by acrasis at 4:06 PM on January 2, 2009

So the clumped brown ones are the ones that taste just like maple syrup?

No. That is a different species, the candy cap. Honeys, despite the name, are not considered all that edible.

Is there anything special about those shaggy mushrooms?

The shaggy parasol is a choice edible. However, completely key those out before trying them, as there are lookalikes that are pretty toxic. Make a spore print for sure.

You might consider attending a meeting of the MSSF. There are identification tables and extremely knowledgeable people to ask before most meetings in the winter.
posted by telstar at 4:25 PM on January 4, 2009

They are fully booked until the spring.
Being a life long autodidact, I think i will just go out there and eat a mouthfull of every mushroom I find.
posted by dirty lies at 8:50 PM on January 5, 2009

Heh? The MSSF meetings I've been to are open to the public.

Being a life long autodidact, I think i will just go out there and eat a mouthfull of every mushroom I find.

Eggs-salent. Report back any findings!
posted by telstar at 8:17 AM on January 7, 2009

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