The study of life is a comparatively young scientific discipline. Although biology as we know it is regarded as a relatively young development, it had been studied in ancient times as part of philosophy. Natural philosophers from as far back as the ancient civilisations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, as well as what today are India and China are documented. 01 Much more recent is the separation of the discipline of mycology from that of botany. It was not until a few decades ago, that we recognised the kingdom of fungi to be evolutionarily much closer related to animals than plants. 02 03 The fundamental role of fungi in all of nature and especially as symbionts in the evolution of water dwelling algae towards plants living on land is another recent discovery that changed our understanding of not only evolution but the core principles of life. 04 The study of fungi not only concerns itself with the actual organism however. It includes their interactions within the complex organisational structures of life. The close partnership mycorrhizal species form with plants is only one of these interactions that take place in communities and ecosystems of any kind around the globe. Countless fungi have evolved genetic and biochemical properties that have aroused the interest of humans since the beginning of time. With a mere 120 000 fungal species being described so far and an estimated number of total species between 2.2 and 3.8 billion our neglect of the field is difficult to understand. 05 Considering the discoveries of fungi producing toxins, antibiotics and other secondary metabolites the potential treasures buried in the depths of this young natural science is immense. There is a number of species known to chemically break down complex organic biomolecules such as lignin. Lignin being the more durable component of wood, its synthesis arguably leading to the most influential evolutionary treat in the plant world next to photosynthesis – that of defying gravity using rigid structures to reach up closer to the sun. Lignin being as durable a molecule is generally hard to decompose. Fungi however, with the employment of free radicals have managed to evolve into the grand composers of the worlds biomass. Not only plant matter is decomposed and accumulated in fungal organisms. Pollutants such as xenobiotics, petroleum and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are devoured by fungi. By contributing to the transformation of decaying matter into precious humus, fungi inhibit a critical role in the global carbon cycle. Not only do they remediate soil from toxic pollutants, but function as a bioaccumulator of heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, cesium, lead, mercury and copper. It is for these healing properties of not only the human body itself, but our environments at large, that I regard the potential for collaboration with fungal organisms as a key in our quest to face the current crises that have been largely caused by us humans. 06
Creating and expanding grain spawn – Stamets, P. (n.d.). Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms (3rd/ed).
01 A History of the Life Sciences, Revised and Expanded - 3rd Edition - L. (n.d.). Retrieved March 8, 2021, from https://www.routledge.com/A-History-of-the-Life-Sciences-Revised-and-Expanded/Magner/p/book/9780824708245
02 Science: Animals and fungi closer than anyone expected | New Scientist. (n.d.). Retrieved March 8, 2021, from https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg13818773-300-science-animals-and-fungi-closer-than-anyone-expected/
03 Woese, C. R., Kandler, O., & Wheelis, M. L. (1990). Towards a natural system of organisms: Proposal for the domains Archaea, Bacteria, and Eucarya. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 87(12), 4576–4579. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.87.12.4576
04 Lutzoni, F., Nowak, M. D., Alfaro, M. E., Reeb, V., Miadlikowska, J., Krug, M., … Magallón, S. (2018). Contemporaneous radiations of fungi and plants linked to symbiosis. Nature Communications, 9(1), 5451. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-018-07849-9
05 Hawksworth, D. L., & Lücking, R. (2017). Fungal Diversity Revisited: 2.2 to 3.8 Million Species. In The Fungal Kingdom (Vol. 5, pp. 79–95). https://doi.org/10.1128/microbiolspec.funk-0052-2016
06 Stamets, P. (2005). Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World. Ten Speed Press.