Fungi and conservation in the USA

This 2016 video says about itself:

You might see some of these 11 bizarre and creepy looking fungi around the world; here are what they’re called and if they are edible.

6. The Bitter Oyster Mushroom. This mushroom is found in the local regions of North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia where it grows in clusters located mostly on oak, birch, and beech trees. Bitter oysters happen to be one of the manly bioluminescent mushrooms that exist and it’s only the eastern North American strain that is able to glow, unlike the Pacific strain. It’s thanks to this species of mushroom that the term foxfire was coined by the early settlers. Fun fact: This mushroom is classified as being bioremediation as it has the power to absorb the toxins from environmental pollutants and is able to break down lignin.

5. Stemonitis fusca. This is a species of slime mold that isn’t actually a fungus, however, it was at one point classified in the same kingdom. Sometimes they’re still grouped together as a means of convenience. These eukaryotic organisms are able to live as single cells but combine into multicellular reproductive structures. This type of slime mold can be found in small groups forming on dead wood. It’s recognized by its slender stalks that hold up the sporangia that only grows to a height of around 6 to 20 millimeters tall. There’s over 900 documented species of slime mold that exist all over the world.

4. The Blue Milk Mushroom. The more common name for this edible mushroom is the indigo milk cap and it can be found in several different areas of the world including East Asia, Central America, and eastern North America, which is why they’re most often found in Chinese, Mexican, and Guatemalan food dishes. When the mushroom is cut open or broken it leaks an indigo milk or as it’s referred to “latex” and the mushroom begins to change into a green color once exposed to oxygen. This species of mushroom is definitely considered to be one of the most beautiful, yet, weird species in the world.

3. The False Morel Mushroom. Also known as the brain mushroom and you can see why the false morel will definitely prove to be fatal if ingested raw and not properly prepared. A good number of people have died. False morels are actually considered as a famous delicacy in areas such as Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, and in the regions of the Great Lakes of North America. In certain places in the world, it’s illegal to sell, in others, it must come with a warning label. The safety of its consumption has been recently brought into question as it’s been noted that even if properly prepared, toxins in the mushroom can still remain and quite a number of people have developed acute toxicity. So, there could very well be some long-term health effects related to this mushroom.

2. The Bleeding Tooth Fungus. Hydnellum peckii is an interesting looking inedible mushroom that is definitely not something you want to try and eat. What you see in the following photo is a young bleeding tooth fungus that is secreting a red liquid. It’s not blood or anything, even though it does resemble it. It’s really just a liquid that is filled with anticoagulant properties. That means it’s capable of preventing blood clots. When the fungus ages it turns brown and looks unrecognizable compared to its youth. They’re most common in North America but are also found in other parts of the world.

1. The Amanita muscaria. More commonly referred to as the fly agaric, this mushroom is very famous for its psychoactive properties. Not only that, but this mushroom is also considered to be highly poisonous, that is, if it’s eaten raw and not properly detoxified first. Careful, though, there’s no antidote but there are several methods as far as treatment goes. Under several different laws and ordinances, the Amanita muscaria is illegal in The United Kingdom, Australia, and The Netherlands. This fungus also happens to be quite famous in pop culture what with being featured in the Super Mario Bros. franchise and in the Alice in Wonderland book to name a few.

From Washington State University in the USA:

Fungi may help restore native plant populations

Symbiotic relationship helps stabilize soil, conserve water, provide habitat

May 14, 2018

Transplanting fungi to restore native plant populations in the Midwest and Northwest is the focus of efforts by a team of WSU Tri-Cities researchers.

Mycorrhizal fungi form a symbiotic relationship with many plant roots, which helps stabilize the soil, conserve water and provides a habitat for many birds and insects, said Tanya Cheeke, assistant professor of biology. Some native plant species are more dependent on mycorrhizal fungi than invasive plant species. So, when that fungi is disturbed, native plants may not be able to compete as well with invasive species, disrupting the natural ecosystem of the environment and inhibiting many natural processes, she said.

Inoculate seedlings with microbes

“One way to improve native plant survival and growth in disturbed environments may be to inoculate seedlings with native soil microbes, which are then transplanted into a restoration site”, Cheeke said. “We’ve been doing prairie restoration in Kansas for the past two years. Now, we’re also doing something similar in the Palouse area in Washington.”

Cheeke is working with a team of undergraduate and graduate students to complete the research. A group of her undergraduate students recently presented their project during the WSU Tri-Cities Undergraduate Research Symposium and Art Exhibition. Those students include Catalina Yepez, Jasmine Gonzales, Megan Brauner and Bryndalyn Corey.

The undergraduate team spent the past semester analyzing the spread of fungi from an inoculated soil environment in Kansas to see how far the fungi had spread into a restoration area. One year after planting, soil samples were collected at 0.5 meter, 1 meter, 1.5 meters, and 2 meters from the site of the inoculation in each plot. The samples were then tested for the presence of fungal DNA to see if the inoculated mycorrhizal species had reached the various distances from the inoculation points.

“The results will be used to inform ecological restoration efforts aimed at improving the survival and growth of native plants in disturbed ecosystems,” undergraduate student Megan Brauner said.

Disturbed vs. pristine environments

Cheeke said they also are looking at how microbes change across gradients of disturbed environments compared to pristine environments.

“We want to determine the microbes that are present in pristine environments, but are missing from disturbed sites,” she said.

Eventually, Cheeke said they would like to develop soil restoration strategies that other people can implement in their own environments.


Leafcutter ants, new research

This 2015 video is called Leafcutter Ants‘ Life.

From Rice University in the USA:

Leafcutter ants‘ success due to more than crop selection

Genetic analysis finds leafcutter ants originated in South America

May 9, 2018

A complex genetic analysis has biologists re-evaluating some long-held beliefs about the way societies evolved following the invention of agriculture — by six-legged farmers.

Like humans, leafcutter ants grow crops, and like humans, farming allows the ants to produce enough food to support millions of individuals who work at specialized jobs. But while people invented agriculture at the dawn of civilization about 10,000 years ago, leafcutters began cultivating massive subterranean fungus gardens more than 10 million years ago.

In a study published this week in Molecular Ecology, biologists from Rice University, the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) and Brazil’s São Paulo State University analyzed genetic data from samples collected at leafcutter nests throughout South, Central and North America and concluded that the ants originated in South America and owe their success to something more than their choice of crops.

The ability to grow domesticated crops was a major turning point in human history and evolution, and we thought, until recently, that a similar thing was true for leafcutters,” said study co-author Scott Solomon, an evolutionary biologist at Rice who collected many of the study’s samples as a graduate student and postdoctoral researcher at UT Austin and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. “Our findings suggest that several of the things we thought we ‘knew’ about leafcutters are not true.”

The research, led by co-author Ulrich Mueller, Solomon’s longtime UT collaborator and mentor, is available in both the newly published paper and a 2017 companion study, also published in Molecular Ecology.

“This study started 20 years ago as a collaboration between Brazilian and Texan labs and developed into a huge collaboration involving 22 labs surveying leafcutter ants in 17 countries,” said Mueller, the William Morton Wheeler-Lost Pines Professor in UT Austin’s Department of Integrative Biology. “Because of this international effort, we now have a comprehensive understanding of leafcutter ecology and evolution.”

Leafcutter ants are found only in the Americas. More than 40 species range from Argentina to the southern United States, and they are a dominant ecological player in any forest or grassland they inhabit.

“They aren’t the only ants that grow fungi, but if you compare leafcutter ants with other ants that grow fungi, there are many differences,” Mueller said. “For starters, no other ants use freshly cut leaves to grow their fungi.”

Ants that grow fungus on dead and decaying leaves have been around even longer than leafcutters, probably about 50 million years, Solomon said. But leafcutters’ ability to use living leaves was a quantum leap in evolutionary terms because it opened up the entire ecosystem. For example, Solomon said, the ability to consume plant matter they cannot directly digest allows a nest of leafcutters to consume about as much vegetation each year as a full-grown cow.

“Once you can use fresh leaves, it gives you access to so much more food,” Solomon said. “If you can grow and raise your crop on any leaf that’s growing out there, then the sky’s the limit.”

In comparison with other fungus-growing ants, leafcutter colonies are enormous, Solomon said. “They’re on the order of millions of individuals. Some leafcutter colonies are so large that they show up on photos taken by satellites in space.”

Leafcutters also have specialized tasks. Individual worker ants come in different sizes, and they have different jobs.

“Some are specialized on raising the young,” Solomon said. “Others are specialized on removing weeds and disease inside the nest. Others are specialized on going out and finding food, and yet others are specialized on defending the colony.

“All of the specialization is unique to the leafcutters,” he said. “With other fungus-growing ants, the workers are basically interchangeable. They don’t have these specialized tasks.

“One of the long-held truths of our field was that leafcutters grow a special and unique kind of fungus that no other ant could grow,” Solomon said. “It was thought that something about that unique crop allowed them to do these things that other fungus-growing ants couldn’t do.”

The new studies, which are the first to analyze the genes of fungi from hundreds of leafcutter colonies across the Americas, found instances where other ants grew the specialized “leafcutter-only” fungus, as well as instances where leafcutters grew more generic fungal crops.

“It’s not the crop that makes them special,” Mueller said. “We found that leafcutter ants and their fungi have co-evolved, and while that’s not a surprise, the evidence suggests that this co-evolution occurred in a more complex way than previously believed.

“For example, we found that the type of fungi that was long thought to be unique to leafcutters can be grown by other ants on dead plant material,” he said. “In one case, it’ll be grown on fresh vegetation, and in another case, it won’t.”

Solomon said, “The question is what gives this fungus the ability to digest freshly cut leaves? It’s not something that is inherent in the fungus. There seems to be something about the way the leafcutter ants are cultivating the fungus that gives it that ability.”

Solomon began collecting leaf-cutting ants and their fungi in Central America in 2002 as a graduate student in Mueller’s lab. In 2007 Solomon expanded his work, thanks to a National Science Foundation (NSF) international postdoctoral fellowship that allowed him to spend a year working with study co-author Mauricio Bacci Jr. at São Paulo State University in Rio Claro, Brazil. Solomon’s samples and dozens of others gathered over the years by Mueller’s and Bacci’s teams allowed the researchers to pinpoint the origin of leafcutters to South America, probably in the grassland plains of what is now southern Brazil and Argentina, Solomon said.

“We sampled tons of different nests of leafcutter ant species throughout the entire range of all leafcutters, which goes from Texas in the extreme north down to Argentina,” Solomon said. “What’s novel about our approach is how much sampling there was, particularly in South America. In the past, there has been a lot of sampling, but it was focused in just a few different regions, particularly in Costa Rica and Panama.

“It turns out the leafcutters in those places don’t represent species that live elsewhere,” he said. “By going and sampling in other places, especially in the open grasslands of southern Brazil, Paraguay and northern Argentina, we were able to show that the greatest genetic diversity of leafcutter fungi is in South America. Usually, wherever there’s the greatest genetic diversity is where a group originated. That is true for humans, and that’s just generally true of other species, and that leads us to believe the leafcutters originated in the grasslands of South America.”

Mueller said, “The study illustrates the importance in science of re-evaluating entrenched assumptions, amassing large data sets and collaborating internationally before reaching conclusions.”

Ants working together to carry a large piece of food get around obstacles by switching between two types of motion: one that favors squeezing the morsel through a hole and another to seek a path around the barrier: here.

Ants provide clues to why biodiversity is higher in the tropics. New global data of invertebrate distributions suggests time holds key to species diversity: here.

New mushroom species discovery in the Netherlands

This 2014 video from Spain is about the Morchella vulgaris fungus.

A mushroom species, new for the Netherlands, has been discovered.

It is Morchella vulgaris, a species related to, and superficially looking like, the well-known yellow morel.

In the Netherlands, Morchella vulgaris had been wrongly seen as yellow morel for a long time. But now, Dutch mycologists know it lives in their country as well.

Mushrooms in the USA, video

This video from the USA says about itself:

Magic of Mushrooms – A Documentary

24 November 2017

Amazing Mushrooms – Fantastic Fungi – an all original look at dozens of unusual varieties of mushrooms in the deep, dark and moist forest. Set to ambient music you’ll see some of the prettiest, deadliest and tastiest mushrooms along the trails of the Great Smoky Mountains. Some exude a creepy sense of decay – others a remarkable air of brightness and light. Keep an eye out for these overlooked jewels on your next walk in the Forest!

How fungi grow, new research

This 2013 video is called Fungi, Ascomycota: Aspergillus Life Cycle.

From the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany:

How fungi grow: A movie from inside the cell

March 15, 2018

Fungi forming mold on food are hazardous. Fungi supplying antibiotics are beneficial. Fungi may be harmful pathogens. On the other hand, they are used for the production of food or medicine and in bioengineering. In either case, it is required to precisely understand their growth mechanism. Researchers of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have made a big step forwards: Using high-performance light microscopy, they watched mold fungi as they grew in the cell. The findings are presented in Science Advances.

Like most fungi, mold fungi are hyphal fungi. They consist of filamentous cells, hyphae, which may form large networks, mycelia. The hyphae of about 3 µm in thickness exclusively grow by directed extension of their tips. They grow very rapidly, by about 1.5 mm per day. An important objective of biological fundamental research is to understand this growth on the molecular level, as hyphal growth plays an important role in both health-damaging effects and beneficial applications of fungi.

For their studies, the researchers tagged a key enzyme required for building the chitin-containing cell wall with a fluorescent protein and observed the latter in the living cell with the help of high-resolution microscopy (nanoscopy). Use of ultrasensitive cameras in the microscope enabled high-speed imaging of tip growth and of the transport of individual vesicles. These images resemble small movies and allow to precisely determine transport speed of the vesicles. They reveal how building materials are packed into smallest vesicles and transported along the fiber structures of the cell skeleton to the cell tip by transport vehicles, the motor proteins. Motor proteins are very small nanomotors that dock to the fiber structures with two small “feet” and walk on these structures. Using genetically modified fungi, the scientists also identified the motor proteins responsible for the transports.

From their observations, the researchers of the Institute of Applied Physics and the Institute for Applied Biosciences of KIT derived a first comprehensive model to describe how the rapidly growing hyphal tip is supplied with construction material. This is an important step towards complete molecular understanding of directed cell growth processes, Professor Gerd Ulrich Nienhaus of KIT’s Institute of Applied Physics says. “The findings made in hyphal fungi are of general relevance to biology, as they can be transferred to other cells and organisms. On the other hand, they open up new opportunities to specifically influence fungal growth, which is important to the mitigation of pathogenic species in medicine.”

The fungus species which they studied was Aspergillus nidulans,

Jelly baby, Mushroom of the Year

Jelly baby fungi, photo by H. Krisp

2018 in the Netherlands is not just the year of the house martin, but also the year of the jelly baby, chosen as fungus of the year.

In the 20th century, these fungi suffered much from environmental pollution; however, recently there is a recovery.