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Fungi stores a third of carbon from fossil fuel emissions and could be essential to reaching net zero, new study reveals

Fungi stores a third of carbon from fossil fuel emissions
  • Mycorrhizal fungi are responsible for holding up to 36 per cent of yearly global fossil fuel emissions below ground – more than China emits each year
  • The fungi make up a vast underground network all over the planet underneath grasslands and forests, as well as roads, gardens, and houses on every continent on Earth
  • It is not only crucial to storing carbon and keeping the planet cooler, but are also essential to global biodiversity
  • Researchers are now calling for fungi to be considered more heavily in conservation and biodiversity policies, and are investigating whether we can increase how much carbon the soil underneath us can hold

Fungi stores a third of carbon from fossil fuel emissionsThe vast underground network of fungi beneath our feet stores over 13 gigatons of carbon around the world, roughly equivalent to 36 per cent of yearly global fossil fuel emissions, according to new research.

It is widely believed that mycorrhizal fungi could store carbon, as the fungi forms symbiotic relationships with almost all land plants and transports carbon, converted into sugars and fats by the plant, into soil, but until now the true extent of just how much carbon the fungi were storing wasn’t known.

The discovery by a team of scientists, including researchers from the University of Sheffield, that fungi is storing over a third of the carbon created from fossil fuel emissions each year indicates that it could be crucial as nations seek to tackle climate change and reach net zero. Work is now being undertaken to see whether we could increase how much carbon the soil underneath us can store.

Mycorrhizal fungi have been supporting life on land for at least 450 million years and make up vast underground networks all around us – even forming beneath roads, gardens, and houses, on every continent on Earth.

The international team of scientists, including experts from the University of Sheffield’s School of Biosciences, conducted a meta-analysis of hundreds of studies looking at plant-soil processes to understand how much carbon is being stored by the fungi on a global scale.

Their findings, published in Current Biology, revealed that an estimated 13.12 gigatons of CO2 is transferred from plants to the fungi annually, transforming the soil beneath our feet to a massive carbon pool and the most effective carbon capture storage unit in the world.

The amount of carbon stored equates to roughly 36 per cent of yearly global fossil fuel emissions – more than China emits each year.

Researchers are now calling for fungi to be considered in biodiversity and conservation policies, given its crucial role in cutting carbon emissions. At the current rate, the UN warns that 90 per cent of soils could be degraded by 2050, which could be catastrophic for not only curbing climate change and rising temperatures, but for the productivity of crops and plants too.

Professor Katie Field, Professor of Plant-Soil Processes at the University of Sheffield and co-author of the study, said: “Mycorrhizal fungi represent a blind spot in carbon modelling, conservation, and restoration – the numbers we’ve uncovered are jaw-dropping, and when we’re thinking about solutions for climate we should also be thinking about what we can harness that exists already.

“Soil ecosystems are being destroyed at an alarming rate through agriculture, development and other industry, but the wider impacts of disruption of soil communities are poorly understood. When we disrupt the ancient life support systems in the soil, we sabotage our efforts to limit global heating and undermine the ecosystems on which we depend.

“More needs to be done to protect these underground networks – we already knew that they were essential for biodiversity, and now we have even more evidence that they are crucial to the health of our planet.”

The researchers are now investigating how long the carbon is stored by the fungi in the soil, and are seeking to further explore the role that fungi plays in Earth’s ecosystems.

Dr Heidi Hawkins, lead author of the study from the University of Cape Town, said: “We always suspected that we may have been overlooking a major carbon pool. Understandably, much focus has been placed on protecting and restoring forests as a natural way to mitigate climate change, but little attention has been paid to the fate of the vast amounts of carbon dioxide that are moved from the atmosphere during photosynthesis by those plants and sent belowground to mycorrhizal fungi.

“A major gap in our knowledge is the permanence of carbon within mycorrhizal structures. We do know that it is a flux, with some being retained in mycorrhizal structures while the fungus lives, and even after it dies. Some will be decomposed into small carbon molecules and from there either bind to particles in the soil, or even be reused by plants. And certainly, some carbon will be lost as carbon dioxide gas during respiration by other microbes or the fungus itself.”

Professor Toby Kiers, senior author from Vrije University Amsterdam and co-founder of the Society for the Protection of Underground Networks, said: “The paper is part of a global push to understand the role that fungi play in Earth’s ecosystems. We know that mycorrhizal fungi are vitally important ecosystem engineers, but they are invisible to most people.

“Mycorrhizal fungi lie at the base of the food webs that support much of life on Earth, but we are just starting to understand how they actually work. There’s still so much to learn.”

One of the projects which is now investigating the role of mycorrhizal fungi in soil carbon and other nutrient cycles in more detail is being led by the University of Sheffield’s School of Biosciences. Using simulated future climates in specialised outdoor field experiments, the NERC-funded study aims to improve our understanding of the critical role of soil fungi, alongside other microbes, in moving carbon belowground and how this will be impacted by future climate change.

Originally published on EurekaAlert

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Mushrooms use perspiration as a tool to stay cool

mushrooms with dew on them.

mushrooms with dew on them.It’s not yet clear why fungi might want to stay cool. However, the discovery sheds light on a potentially fundamental aspect of fungal biology and may even have implications for human health.

It is, to me, a very interesting unexplained phenomenon, said Dr. Arturo Casadevall, a microbiologist at Johns Hopkins University and one of the study authors on the new paper, published last month in PNAS.

Lead author Radamés Cordero, who is also a microbiologist at Johns Hopkins, used an infrared camera to snap pictures of mushrooms in the woods. Infrared cameras can visualize the relative temperatures of each object in a photo, and Cordero noticed something odd: The mushrooms seemed to be colder than their surroundings.

Scientists had previously observed that mushrooms tend to be colder than their environments. But Casadevall said he had never heard of the phenomenon, so the team decided to find out if this cooling effect applied to all fungi.

In addition to photographing wild mushrooms, the researchers grew and photographed different types of fungi in the lab and found the same effect the fungi were colder than their surroundings. This was even the case with their culture of Cryomyces antarcticus, a fungus that grows in Antarctica.

The fungi seem to cool down through evapotranspiration of water from their surface meaning, essentially, they sweat. Think about coming out of the shower, Casadevall told Live Science. When you’re covered in water, you feel cold because some of the water on your skin is evaporating, taking heat with it.

two small white mushrooms on a mossy hill with a blurry dark blue background dotted with white lights

Finding fungi sweat to keep cool could have implications for human health as species start to adapt to warmer global temperatures. (Image credit: Misha Kaminsky/Getty Images)
The team then created a sort of mushroom-powered air conditioner. They put mushrooms Agaricus bisporus, commonly sold in supermarkets as portobello and white mushrooms, among other names into a styrofoam box with a hole on each side. A fan was placed outside one of the holes, and they put this MycoCooler into a larger container and turned the fan on to circulate air over the mushrooms.

After 40 minutes, the air in the larger container had dropped from about 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8 degrees Celsius) down to about 82 F (27.8 C). The mushrooms had lowered the temperature through evaporative cooling, using up heat in the air to convert liquid water into gas.

The scientists are still unsure why fungi might want to keep cool.

In their paper, the authors speculate that it might have something to do with creating optimal conditions for spore formation, or it may help fungi spread their spores by altering the temperature, they might be causing tiny winds that can blow the spores around.

It’s also possible that this phenomenon is due to something else entirely. For example, evapotranspiration also increases humidity, and when asked if it’s possible that the fungi are trying to keep humid, and the cooling is simply a by-product, Casadevall said it was conceivable.

Understanding the reason behind this cooling phenomenon in mushrooms and other fungi could help us understand how fungi interact with their environment and other organisms ourselves included. Fungal diseases are estimated to kill more than 1.5 million people per year, many of them immunocompromised people.

At the moment, however, people also have some protection from fungal infections as we’re warm-blooded, and fungi don’t grow very well at our body temperature, Casadevall said.

But with climate change, fungi could start to adapt to warmer temperatures potentially enabling them to more easily infect humans. If we understand why a fungus might prefer cooler temperatures, it might be able to help us inhibit fungal infections, Casadevall said.

But so far, this new discovery likely poses more questions than answers. I think that if we could understand why why do they want to be a bit colder than the environment?, we’re going to learn a lot. Casadevall said.

Originally published on Livescience

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Mushrooms Chat About The Weather

Laccaria-bicolor growing in the grass

Whether they’re hacking the brains of bugs or mining for gold, fungi are craftier than we give them credit for. Now researchers in Japan have studied how forest mushrooms communicate with each other, and found that they’re mostly chatty when it rains.

Ectomycorrhizal fungi don’t just grow as capped stalks above ground – they form vast networks of roots that stretch out underground and absorb key nutrients from the soil to feed themselves and other plants in a symbiotic relationship.

But this mycelial network also seems to be used for communication between stalks and neighboring plants, coordinating growth or warning of insects or disease. Intriguing as it is, scientific study of the phenomenon has been patchy, and often limited to lab tests.

So for the new study, researchers at Tohoku University in Japan conducted field tests on a type of ectomycorrhizal fungi known as Laccaria bicolor, small tan-colored mushrooms that grow on forest floors. The team attached electrodes to six of the mushrooms in a cluster and measured the electrical signals they passed between each other.

They noticed that the electrical signals fluctuated over time, and seemed to correlate with changes in temperature and moisture. In fact, the signals spiked after rainfall, and were found to be stronger between mushrooms that were closer together.

“In the beginning, the mushrooms exhibited less electrical potential, and we boiled this down to the lack of precipitation,” said Yu Fukasawa, lead researcher on the study. “However, the electrical potential began to fluctuate after raining, sometimes going over 100 mV.”

The team says these findings indicate the need for future studies investigating electrical communication between fungi in real-world locations.

The research was published in the journal Fungal Ecology.

Source: Electrical potentials in the ectomycorrhizal fungus Laccaria bicolor after a rainfall event – Tohoku University

Originally published on newsatlas

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Stems vs Caps which has more mushroom magic?

caps and stems

A 2020 study on the Stability of psilocybin in the biomass of the psychotropic mushroom Psilocybe cubensis named “caps” the winner…. Sorta.

The stipes contained approximately half the amount of tryptamine alkaloids (0.52 wt.%) than the caps (1.03 wt.%); however, these results were not statistically significant, as the concentration of tryptamines in individual fruiting bodies is highly variable.

What’s is all mean?

This means that although the average content of tryptamines in caps is higher than in stipes, due to the Standard Deviation, where there is high variability between individual fruiting bodies, it cannot be said that this statement applies to all fruiting bodies.

The evidence seems to support Schrödinger’s mushroom paradox of quantum superposition stating that the stem both will and won’t f’ you up…

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Are humans and mushrooms related?

Brown Oyster Mushroom

Think back to the last time you walked through a dense, overgrown forest. You probably saw all kinds of plant life – vines, bushes, moss, trees, and a healthy number of fallen logs. A forest is one of the best places to see the circle of life at its most beautiful, which is when life balances with death.

When things die in nature, they begin to break down and decompose, which is where fungi come into play.

Fungi belong to a kingdom all their own, just like animals, plants, bacteria, and protista (algae). They are eukaryotic organisms that absorb nutrients from other organic matter. When a tree falls, or an animal dies, fungi are typically the first on the scene to begin the natural process of decomposition.

Upon seeing a mushroom, most people would immediately view it as a vegetative organism, one that is closely related to plants. However, as recent research has shown, mushrooms are, in fact, more closely related to humans than to plants!

The classification of living organisms

Humans have always been fascinated by life in all its forms. Thousands of years ago, we classified life on earth into just two categories: plants and animals. Aristotle then further divided animals into those with and without blood and those in the land, sea, and air.

That rudimentary system remained in place until the 1600s. In the 18th century, Carl Linnaeus divided life into the kingdoms of animals and plants and then divided them further into different genera and species, which is why we have a two-part naming system in science (Homo sapiens, for example; Homo is the genus and sapiens is the species).

It wasn’t until the middle of the 19th century that single-celled organisms were finally given their due as a separate kingdom of life (Protista). Seventy years later, single-celled organisms were divided into eukaryotes and prokaryotes, so bacteria became the fourth kingdom of life. Although fungi had been recognized as a unique part of the animal kingdom, it was not until 1969 that it was divided into a separate kingdom. This five-kingdom system remains the most widely accepted format for classifying life on earth.

Until recently, all classifications of life, including the expansion from two kingdoms to five kingdoms, were based on physical observations of how things looked, even under a microscope. This is how the closeness and relationships between species, genera, classes, orders, and kingdoms were decided. Given this, it comes as no surprise that most people classified fungi as plants for so long. The similarity in appearance is pretty clear; after all, some look like little red and white trees.

Using similarities in DNA to classify organisms

However, thanks to modern technology, the analysis of genetic relationships between species and organisms is now possible and has led to looking at relationships between forms of life differently. In 1990, Carl Woese proposed the “Three Domains System” of classification based on genetic similarities between organisms. The system shows a common ancestor of all life divided into three broad domains—Bacteria, Archaea, and Eukaryotes (the organisms with a nucleus to store their DNA).

By examining the genes of different species, both animal and fungi, mutational changes can be observed, and genealogical relationships can be determined that stretch back millions of years.

As it turns out, animals and fungi share a common ancestor and branched away from plants sometime around 1.1 billion years ago. Only later did animals and fungi separate on the genealogical tree of life, making fungi more closely related to humans than plants. Most likely, this common ancestor was a single-celled organism that exhibited sperm-like characteristics (like an animal) and then a later developmental stage with a stronger cell wall (fungi).

Are mushrooms vegetables?

Simple answer? No, a mushroom is not a vegetable. Mushrooms are fruiting bodies of macroscopic filamentous fungi. When mycology (the study of fungi) first arose, it was a part of botany because fungi were regarded as primitive plants.

The main difference between a plant (vegetable) and a mushroom is how they acquire their food. Plants possess chlorophyll and produce their food through photosynthesis. Fungi exist on decaying material in nature. In addition, there are obvious structural differences, such as the lack of leaves, roots, and seeds. Thus, fungi now have their own kingdom based on the cellular organization.

However, this is the scientific side of things, but let’s take a look at the other side – food! In everyday life, we do not use science to classify our food. Tomatoes and cucumbers are scientifically the fruits of a plant, but we still call them vegetables. Similarly, mushrooms are not vegetables or fruits, or even meat. They are in themselves a different category, but for convenience, we lump them together with vegetables.

Different kinds of mushrooms have various health benefits. At one point in history, mushrooms were so highly regarded that it was actually forbidden for the common folk to eat them! They were reserved only for royal families.

The Mushrooms and Men have similar DNA.

Haven’t you ever noticed that eating a perfectly cooked portobello mushroom feels a lot closer to eating meat than a salad? Well, that isn’t exactly a scientific explanation of the connection, but genetic studies show that there may be a common ancestor from which both animals and fungi evolved.

In 1993, researchers Baldouf and Palmer published a paper, ‘Animals and fungi are each other’s closest relatives: congruent evidence from multiple proteins’. They compared 25 proteins and their DNA sequences between bacteria, plants, animals, and fungi. They found that animals and fungi exhibited similarities in certain proteins that plants and bacteria did not have. “This congruence among multiple lines of evidence strongly suggests, in contrast to the traditional and current classification, that animals and fungi are sister groups, while plants constitute an independent evolutionary lineage,” the researchers write in their paper.

A 2005 paper described how both animals and fungi are relatives of protists through protein analysis. Researchers are still teasing out the complex relationships between animals and fungi, but there is enough evidence to suggest that you and a mushroom have more in common than a plant has with a mushroom.

How much do you remember about your mushoom relations?

Originally posted at  Sciencebc

You might also like: The Elders: A Story of Mushroom and Man

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Sporegasm: How spores are launched from a mushroom

sporegasam simulated release of mushroom spores

To spread forth and multiply, fungi — including the familiar amanita muscaria — shoot their spores into wafting breezes.

new paper published Wednesday helps explain how fungi aim the spores in the right direction. Scientists at Duke University constructed larger spores out of plastic spheres and then used an inkjet printer to build water droplets, which are key to the launching mechanism.

The artificial spores and droplets in the experiment were about 10 times the size of ones in nature. That slowed down the motion so it could be captured on video. “With that system, you get what the real spore is doing,” Chuan-Hua Chen, a professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at Duke, said.

Dr. Chen and his colleagues describe the findings in The Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

“This new paper really is an almost miraculous proof of principle,” said Nicholas P. Money, a professor of botany at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, who was not involved with the experiment.

For more than a century, the spore-firing prowess of fungi, employed by thousands of species, has been an enthralling enigma for mycologists, the scientists who study fungi. Early in the 20th century, a British-Canadian mycologist named Arthur Henry Reginald Buller — “the Einstein of mycology,” Dr. Money called him — sketched the trajectories of the spores, and even largely came up with the correct explanation for how the fungi were launching them.

On mushrooms, spores grow along the gills on the underside of the caps. The size varies, but a typical spore is about 10 microns, or 1/2,500th of an inch, in width, and it is attached at the end of a stalk called a sterigma. In a single day, a mushroom releases billions of spores.

If the spores were merely dropped, many of them would waft back into the parent mushroom and get stuck. “When a spore launches, it has to go far enough that it clears its apparatus,” said Anne Pringle, a professor of botany and bacteriology at the University of Wisconsin and a collaborator on the new research.

So a mushroom fires the spores away from the vertical gill — but not so far that they fly into the next gill over. The speed is not that fast — less than 10 miles per hour — and the distance is usually just a few hundred microns before air friction slows down the microscopic spores. But the acceleration is explosive, exerting thousands of times the force of gravity.

Scientists call spores launched in this manner ballistospheres.

At the same time they are traveling away from the gills gravity pulls them down and the spores catch a ride on air currents to spawn into new mushrooms elsewhere.

Close-up image of the gill of a gray shag mushroom with spores waiting to be launched.Credit…David McLaughlin/Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society

The energy for propelling the spores turns out to come from the surface tension of water — the forces that cause a drop of water to roll up into a bead on a water-repellent surface.

In his early observations, Buller noticed a tiny droplet next to a spore. The small sphere of liquid on the left is known as the Buller’s drop. To the right is the spore. The Buller’s drop merges with liquid on the spore, catapulting the spore into the air.

“There’s a point at the top of the sterigma, and it has one of the most poetic names in biology,” Dr. Pringle said. “It’s called the punctum lacryman, which means the point that cries. Something about it, either its texture or its chemistry, means that it accumulates water from the surrounding environment.”

Buller hypothesized that when the tiny sphere of fluid — it’s now called the Buller’s drop — touched the liquid on the spore, the two merged, releasing the surface tension energy and launching the spore.

But the launching was so fast that no one knew for sure. Other scientists offered other ideas like squirty sterigmata, bursting bubbles and electrostatic repulsion.

More than a decade ago, Dr. Pringle and Dr. Money turned to ultrahigh-speed video cameras, capturing 100,000 frames a second, to fill in some of the blanks. Even that was not quite fast enough to capture all of the details of what was going on.

In the new experiment, polystyrene spheres were sliced in the shape of a spherical cap, mimicking the shape of a spore. A lens-shaped drop of water, with some ethanol mixed in to make it sticky enough to stay on the surface, was added on top of the flat side. Drips from an inkjet printer created the Buller’s drop next to it until it touched the liquid on the plastic spore.

The merging was still fast — less than a thousandth of a second — but slow enough to be studied. “When they coalesce, they actually get this bounce, which is precisely what we see in nature,” Dr. Money said.

The researchers also used computer simulations to show how the merging launched the spore at a right angle to the surface — the perfect direction for the spore to safely ride air currents.

“It’s gratifying, after so many years,” Dr. Chen said. “We finally saw how to explain this century-old puzzle of directionality.”

Mycologists now have a tool to study the process more exactly, varying the shape of the spore or the relative size of the Buller’s drop.

It could conceivably even have practical uses. Imagine a surface that cleans itself, flinging away any dirt particles that land on it.

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Mushroom Coffins

mushroom coffin

DUTCH STARTUP LOOP runs a factory in the city of Delft that’s unlike any other you may have visited. For one thing, as soon as you enter, the scent of mushrooms fills your nostrils like the smell of a forest after rain. If you follow your nose, you’ll arrive at a damp former vehicle repair workshop, filled with industrial-size fridges, heaters, fans, and two greenhouses. White lab coats and glassware are dotted around, and in one corner sit 25 yellowish-white caskets the color of a poorly maintained incisor, racked up and ready to go. Each is around the size and width of a fully grown man, and subtly different in color and texture, like Styrofoam with a soft, velvety outer coating. This is the production line for a living box in which to bury dead people.

On any other given work day, there would have been a dozen staff members busily bustling around the place, but the factory was closed on the cold October afternoon I visited, so Loop’s founder, Bob Hendrikx, a 27-year-old with a long, boyish face and wavy dark brown hair, showed me around. “The weather conditions outside make a lot of difference,” Hendrikx says, explaining the manufacturing process. “One degree off and you have a different product.”

Loop is a design company conceived around the simple idea of solving everyday problems by harnessing the unique attributes of living organisms. Its first product, the Living Cocoon, is a funeral casket made from mycelium, the tangle of microscopic filaments that exists underneath a mushroom. If the mushroom is the fruiting body (think apples or oranges), the mycelium is the rest of the tree: roots, branches, and all.

When mushrooms reproduce, they release airborne spores that, when they land on a substrate in a suitable environment, produce cylindrical white filaments known as hyphae. As these grow and branch they create webs of hyphae called mycelium. The mushroom you see above ground is only a tiny part of the organism; the rest extends rootlike below ground, spreading out in every direction. Given time, resources, and optimal conditions, mycelium can become vast. The largest on record, a specimen of Armillaria ostoyae discovered in Oregon in 1998, covers a total of 2,384 acres, making it the largest living organism in the world.

Mycelium is nature’s great recycler. As they feed, hyphae release enzymes that are able to convert organic compounds like wood and leaves, but also human-made pollutants—including ​​pesticides, hydrocarbons, and chlorinated compounds—into soluble nutrients. As such, mycelia have been deployed to clean up oil spills and chemical contaminants. Myco-remediation, as the method is called, has been used by the US military to clear up neurotoxins, and to clean asbestos and Japanese knotweed found in London’s ​​Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park before the 2012 games.

Petri dishes containing colonies of fungus. The ones with black mold are deemed failures.

Photograph: Eriver Hijano
Given the right substrate, such as wood chips, mycelium fibers will digest and bind the material together to form a dense and spongy mass; to the naked eye, it looks like a slimy white rubber. But despite this initially unappealing appearance, many designers, including Hendrikx, have been exploring the potential of mycelium composites as an environmentally friendly building material. Mycelium composites have many advantages. Growing them doesn’t require any external energy, heat, or even light. Once dehydrated, the material becomes lightweight, durable, and hydrophobic. And packing a mix of mycelium and organic matter into a mold and then leaving it to grow makes it possible to form structures such as packaging, furniture, clothing—and even caskets. “It’s like baking a cake,” Hendrikx told me. “The mycelium does all the work.”

My visit came at the busiest time in the designer’s career. Two days after my arrival, Hendrikx was due to present the latest iteration of the Living Cocoon at Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven, where he was nominated for two awards, including the 2021 Young Designer award. There was a lot to prepare.

The design world has been embracing mycelium since 2007, when the New York-based company Ecovative first demonstrated home insulation grown with a patented mushroom-based material. Other companies, including Italy-based Mogu and the UK’s Biohm, have also used mycelium as an insulation material. Mycelium composites are being sold as sustainable replacements for uses as diverse as alternative leather and vegan bacon.

“Mycelium is nature’s own recycler, converting both organic compounds and man-made pollutants.”

Its uses in construction have also grown. In 2014, New York design studio The Living built a cluster of circular towers using 10,000 biodegradable blocks made from mycelium and crop waste. In 2017, a group of architects in Southwest India inserted spores into a triangulated timber framework to build the roof of an architectural pavilion. That same year, a group of architects went one step further with the MycoTree, a tree-like structure that was capable of supporting its own weight, demonstrating that mycelium composite materials might even be used to provide a structural framework for buildings.

A Loop worker lines a coffin with live moss. It’s decorative but can also aid decomposition.

Photograph: Eriver Hijano
If we can use mycelium composites to build structures that change how we live on this planet, Hendrikx began to think we could also change how we leave it. Traditional means of disposing of the dead—burial in wood and metal caskets, or cremation—leave an indelible mark on the planet, polluting the soil or the air. A mycelium casket, Hendrikx thought, would in theory allow the dead to enrich the soil, turning polluted cemeteries into flourishing forests.

The Living Cocoon is more than a casket. For Hendrikx, it is the first step in establishing a mutualistic relationship between humanity and nature. Alongside the mycelium caskets, he is working on growing pods that he believes could one day be scaled up for humanity to inhabit. In theory, these rooms, buildings—or eventually, even entire settlements—could be turned into compost after their useful life, returning their nutrients and disappearing without a trace as quickly as they’ve been grown.

“We are missing out on a lot of opportunities by killing intelligent organisms and turning them into a bench. This thousand-year-old species, we turned it into a piece of wood; that’s what we’re good at,” Hendrikx told me as we packed a fully grown Living Cocoon into the back of his van. “Nature has been here for billions of years, and we have been here for just a few thousand. So why do we insist on working against it?”

“Eighty percent of buildings are just one or two stories, so they don’t need super-high-strength materials.”

Hendrikx’s appreciation for design began with his father, Paul, who runs his own construction company and spent Hendrikx’s childhood extending and expanding their family home in central Eindhoven. As a child, Hendrikx was enamored with New York skyscrapers, and he later set out to become an architect, eventually studying at the Delft University of Technology.

As a postgraduate student, Hendrikx became interested in the impact of traditional construction materials. Construction is responsible for around one-tenth of global CO2 emissions, more than shipping and aviation combined; cement production alone is thought to produce 4-8 percent of human-made carbon emissions. If nature has been growing things for billions of years, Hendrikx thought, why can’t it also grow our homes?

For his thesis, Hendrikx researched “living architecture”: organisms such as coral and algae, or materials like silk, with which you could theoretically grow a house. But the standout was mycelium, which is cheap, abundant, and grows quickly. Mycelium-composite structures also have tremendous sound and heat insulation.

According to Dirk Hebel, one of the architects behind the design of the MycoTree, mycelium composites might one day directly replace concrete in some construction projects. With the correct substrate, growing conditions, and post-production, Hebel’s team at the Karlsruhe Faculty of Architecture has grown mycelium-composite bricks with a compressive strength similar to that of a baked clay brick. “Around 80 percent of our buildings worldwide are just one or two stories, so the majority don’t need super-high-strength materials,” Hebel says.

NASA is also exploring how mycelium composites could “revolutionize space architecture,” says professor Lynn Rothschild. Since 2017, Rothschild, leading a team funded under the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program, has been testing how such material might react to Martian and lunar conditions. “Any time you can lower your up-mass—the mass that you’re having to launch against Earth’s gravity—you save enormously on the mission costs,” Rothschild says. “If we can save 80 percent of what we were planning to take for a big steel structure, that’s huge.”

A Loop worker gathers substrate ingredients.

Photograph: Eriver Hijano
Rothschild envisions pop-up structures that operate as a lightweight scaffolding on which mycelium could grow. The structure would be coated in a nutrient solution because there is no organic substrate available on Mars or the Moon, and cyanobacteria, which would produce the oxygen the mycelium needs. Once the structure has grown, Rothschild suspects you could use sunlight to “cook” the organism, and she believes mycelium composites could eventually be used for landing strips, garages to protect rovers from wind and dust, and even full settlements. “You don’t need to worry about joints, you don’t need to worry about size, you don’t need to worry about planning every detail in advance,” she says.

TYPICALLY, MYCELIUM COMPOSITES are heated and killed after forming, which turns the structure rigid. Hendrikx also intended to kill the mycelium, but he grew to appreciate it as a conscious being, rather than a product, and so uses it alive. Building with living mycelium composites is a challenge, however. The organism needs a steady food source; if the substrate runs out, the structure loses its integrity and cannibalizes itself. When the mycelium is alive, these composites also feel more like slimy, wet cardboard than hardboard—and there’s the possibility it will sprout mushrooms whose spores can cause respiratory problems.

So Hendrikx approached Bob Ursem, the scientific director of the Botanical Garden at Delft University of Technology. A convivial 64-year-old with gray hair and round Harry Potter-like glasses, Ursem suggested the mycelium be placed in a state of dormancy: alive but not growing. Drying the fungus with a low heat renders it inactive; the material becomes stiff but remains adaptable, and it doesn’t decay as easily. (There’s also no sprouting.) To bring it back to life, one need only reintroduce the mycelium to a suitably humid environment.

“A fungus can grow and stop,” Ursem says. “It deactivates, forming a hard shield or a cocoon, until it has the environment and the food for it to grow again.”

Dormant mycelia pave the way for new kinds of architectural geometries and spatial organizations. Instead of seeing construction as an assembly of components, Hendrikx began to envision a world in which we could cultivate entire buildings or even settlements in one go. Inhabitants could grow extra rooms by triggering the mycelium’s capacity to reanimate. According to Ursem, buildings might one day be able to self-assemble on site. “What you get is flexible housing,” he says.

“As with a home, you need to nurture it. If we don’t take care of our environment, then the home won’t care for us.”

Because live mycelium networks are capable of transferring electrical signals like a brain, and these signals respond to mechanical, optical, and chemical stimulation, such intelligent buildings could theoretically respond to their environment. According to Andrew Adamatzky, a professor and head of the Unconventional Computing Laboratory at UWE Bristol, homes could turn on a light when it goes dark or open the window if CO2 levels are too high. Fungi react to stimuli; one could also imagine living homes that detect illnesses in their inhabitants based on the air they exhale. “In principle, fungi react to all stimuli that dogs react to, so if dogs can be trained to detect something, then fungi can do the same,” Adamatzky says.

Bob Hendrikx inspects a coffin in the “growing” chamber, where the inoculated substrate is packed into molds and left to form over about a week.

Photograph: Eriver Hijano
However, dormant mycelium is unstable; such homes could potentially reactivate at any time—even from a change in the weather. Rogue fungi might colonize other building materials, such as wood flooring, explains Mitchell Jones, a research scientist in the Institute of Material Chemistry and Research at the University of Vienna.

Living Cocoon caskets are inspected before being shipped.

Photograph: Eriver Hijano
To overcome this, Hendrikx hopes to construct walls with two layers of dead mycelium enclosing a layer of living mycelium, much like the bark on a tree. This would shut water out from the inner layer, he told me, keeping the fungus there dormant. He also wants to implant sensors within the mycelium to monitor its temperature, moisture levels, and the amount of remaining substrate. Based on that data, he said inhabitants could decide to grow the home by adding substrate, shrink it by starving it, or maintain it by applying an algae-based solution filled with nutrients. All this, in Hendrikx’ mind, could be controlled through an app.

“As with [any] home, you need to nurture it to extend your stay,” Hendrikx told me. “If we don’t take care of our environment, then the home won’t care for us.”

Living Cocoon caskets and lids come out of their molds wet and need to be dried in special tents before inspection and shipping.

Photograph: Eriver Hijano
AS SOON AS Felix Lindholm was diagnosed with prostate cancer in early 2020, he began to wonder what to do with his body after his death. (Felix’s name has been changed to protect his family’s privacy.) A retired director of an art school in a town close to Belgium’s border, he loved nature and wished to tread lightly on the planet as he left it. He bought a plot at a “natural burial” ground, where graves are dug by hand and synthetic fabrics are banned.

Lindholm researched caskets made of biodegradable materials like recycled paper, cardboard, wicker, willow, and banana leaf; he even considered a simple, organic cotton shroud. Then he discovered the Living Cocoon. In September 2021, he became a Loop customer.

Death has a more deleterious impact on the environment than many realize. According to one estimate, cemeteries in the US take up around 1.4 million acres, while around 13,000 tons of steel and 1.5 million tons of concrete are used for burial vaults annually. If every burial used wooden caskets, they would need 150 million board feet of hardwood each year. Metal coffins, popular because they’re better at preserving the body, corrode in the soil or oxidize in underground vaults.

As a corpse decomposes, it releases around 40 liters of liquid, including water, ammoniacal nitrogen, organic matter, and salts. Bodies may contain metals like silver, platinum, and cobalt from orthopedic implants and mercury from dental fillings. If the deceased has had chemotherapy, the liquid may leach out; then there’s embalming fluid, a potent chemical cocktail that contains formaldehyde, a carcinogen. The 18 million liters of embalming fluid that leach into US soil annually could fill six Olympic-size swimming pools.

When buried without a coffin, in ordinary soil, an unembalmed adult normally takes eight to 12 years to decompose to a skeleton. Placed in a coffin, the body can take decades longer. As a result, a quarter of England’s cemeteries are expected to be full by 2023.

Cremation is no better. Globally, the industry is estimated to produce 6.8 million tons of CO2 annually, as well as carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide.

Natural burials have grown in popularity, as has resomation, where bodies are dissolved in water and potassium hydroxide. And then there’s human composting. The first large-scale facility opened in Seattle in January 2021.

Hendrikx was encouraged to pursue the idea of the Living Cocoon by a passer-by at Dutch Design Week 2019, where he was presenting “Mollie,” a home constructed out of blocks of living mycelium cultivated from mushroom spores from Japan. Hendrikx believed a mycelium casket could make death “restorative” by cleansing the soil.

Each Living Cocoon is grown using mycelium Ganoderma lucidum, a fungus that’s venerated across East Asia for its healing powers. In China it’s known as lingzhi, which translates to “mushroom of immortality,” while the Japanese refer to it as reishi, meaning “soul mushroom.” Hendrikx chose Ganoderma because it’s a fast colonizer, but also because it can consume a wide range of substrates, leading to better growth and stronger, more penetrative bonds. The better the growth, the tougher the mycelium composite; the last thing you want is for the coffin to collapse before it’s in the ground.

The moment the casket is lowered into the soil, “a party begins,” Hendrikx told me. The humidity reactivates the fungus, so it begins hunting for food. Its enzymes first break down the wood chips, then any toxins that exist in the soil. Fungi are able to break down most environmental toxins, except heavy metals—they absorb and hyperaccumulate those in their fruiting bodies, which can then be removed.

Once there’s no food left, the fungus starves, dies, and becomes food for other microorganisms in the soil, which go on to colonize the corpse. According to Hendrikx’s early testing, the Living Cocoon is absorbed into the earth in around 60 days, and while he doesn’t have data to prove it, he believes a body inside a Living Cocoon will decompose in just two to three years.

A collection of fungi displayed in the Loop lab.

Photograph: Eriver Hijano
A FEW DAYS after my tour of the Loop factory, I joined Susanne Duijvestein, a “green” funeral director, for a tour of Zorgvlied, one of the Netherlands’ largest cemeteries, a short cycle ride outside of Amsterdam, where peacocks roamed freely among the shadows of sycamore and oak trees.

For Duijvestein, a 35-year-old former banker with a tangle of long, blonde hair, marble headstones are symbolic of a society that still doesn’t know how to deal with death. As she showed me the natural burial section, an area of flat ground bereft of markers, statues, and even floral arrangements, she said that there is no silver bullet when it comes to disposing of the dead—but if there was, it wouldn’t be the Living Cocoon. “We need a lot of systemic change,” she tells me, “not a single coffin that costs a lot of money.” (Each Living Cocoon costs €1,495, about $1,530.)

Duijvestein, for one, doubts Loop’s promises. There is still no evidence, she says, that the mycelium reactivates when buried, where there’s little to no oxygen. Any oxygen in the coffin and in gaps in the soil would be consumed by microbes. Myco-remediation is an aerobic process, so it would be like trying to light a fire underground.

“Before this, people were seeing nature as a source for inspiration. The next stage is using it for collaboration.”

“Before [Hendrikx] went viral, he hadn’t actually buried a human body before. So his claims aren’t proven yet,” Duijvestein said. “I do know that among many other species, fungi definitely help with decomposition in natural circumstances on top of the ground. But I am not convinced that they also work six feet under with the typical poor cemetery-soil conditions.”

Having worked in the funeral industry for five years, Duijvestein told me how she’s seen many supposedly green funeral products that don’t perform as claimed. One of the most memorable was the Infinity Burial Suit, made from organic cotton embedded with material from specially cultivated mushrooms. Developed by Coeio, a California-based “green” burial company, it made headlines in 2019 when former Beverly Hills 90210 star Luke Perry was buried in one. Like the Living Cocoon, it claims to use mycelium to cleanse the body of toxins and return nutrients to the soil, but some have questioned this premise.

One of the suit’s loudest critics is Billy Campbell, a cofounder of the first conservation burial ground in the US. According to Campbell, Coeio’s technology is not grounded in science, because the fungi would almost certainly die as soon as they’re buried in the earth. The fungi the Infinity Suit uses, the gray oyster, would also be unable to digest the harsh toxins the body excretes. Loop’s Living Cocoon, Campbell says, would fall at the same hurdle: The Ganoderma lucidum, another species that feeds predominantly on cellulose-rich organic matter, would be unable to deal with the toxins coming from the human body. Because Ganoderma are most effective in an acidic environment, he says, they’re also unlikely to survive the alkaline environment of ammonium seeping out of a corpse.

“You can’t just put a bunch of fungal stuff that you’ve grown on cellulose or some other cultural medium deep into the ground,” Campbell explains. “It isn’t going to survive long enough for remediation to be possible.”

That’s not to say the Living Cocoon isn’t a more sustainable solution than a wood or metal casket; but Campbell worries that Hendrikx’s claims are overblown. “I think it is incumbent on them to demonstrate that [the mycelium] is reactivated in a meaningful way,” Campbell says. “For now, I see this as one more product, and not a bad one, but not a breakthrough.”

Bob Hendrikx pours in a solution containing his special mycelium, while a Loop worker uses an electric mixer to blend it into a batch of substrate, ready for decanting into a casket-shaped mold.

Photograph: Eriver Hijano
THE MORNING AFTER my meeting with Duijvestein, I took the train to the Hendrikx family home in Eindhoven. Overlooking a peaceful garden setting through the panoramic windows in the living room, I listened as Hendrikx took a new order for four Living Cocoons—his largest yet—and fielded calls from enthusiastic investors and journalists eager to report on his exhibition.

Over lunch, he batted away my questions about whether the Living Cocoon would indeed activate in the soil because Ursem had told him that it would. “At the beginning, our first assumption was that there was no oxygen, but then we learned there was. The answer is just simply ‘Yes.’ We can talk for a long time about it, but …” Instead, he explained how he intends to incorporate bioluminescent fungus, which can be triggered to glow in the dark, to replace the candles people sometimes place on a grave. In the future, he wants to grow gene-edited light-emitting trees that he believes could one day line idyllic city streets. “Instead of street lamps, we’d just have a nice tree,” he told me.

That afternoon, we transported some bushes from the family’s garden to the Microlab, a concrete behemoth of a building that hosts Dutch Design Week. In one corner of the exhibition space lay the latest iteration of the Living Cocoon. Light brown and with more curvature than a regular casket, it’s supposed to make death feel more human. Hendrikx had surrounded it with an assortment of trees and flowers, to make it look as aesthetically pleasing as possible. Even then, it still looked otherworldly, out of place.

It wasn’t until the following week that I heard from Hendrikx again: “We won,” he texted, with a photo of the “Public Award” trophy. After the award, he was invited to speak about the coffin on national television in the UK and on CNN and to give a lecture at the Stedelijk Museum.

It was a landmark moment for Loop. But to Hendrikx it was just one piece of a larger puzzle. The goal of the casket is to “prove that we can collaborate with living organisms,” he says, which will pave the way for his more radical living products. “It’s unrealistic right now, but for me it’s the only way forward.”

THE NEXT STEP is to develop a portfolio of live mycelium funeral products for humans and animals, and then to move into above-ground composting and luminous trees. One day, Hendrikx wants to bioluminate entire cities and then, at some point, to build those cities out of mycelium. “We are pioneering, but this is a movement we will see in the coming decades,” Hendrikx says. “Before this, people were seeing nature as a source for inspiration. The next stage is using it for collaboration.”

Originally posted Wired

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Ecovative Turning Mushrooms into Bacon and Styrofoam

ecovative vegan mushroom Bacon

Atlast Food Co., a spinoff from Ecovative Design headed by Eben Bayer, has secured $40 million from investors including Robert Downey Jr.’s Footprint Coalition Ventures. The fresh funds are in addition to the $60 million raised for Ecovative just this month, totalling $100 million which will be utilised to create the world’s largest mycelium farm which is set to produce 100 million pounds per year.

ecovative vegan BaconThe flagship product is a fungi-based bacon produced with mycelium, coconut oil, cane sugar, sea salt, smoked flavours and beet juice, which is on sale through My Eats and which will expand out of North America into Europe and Asia. When the product first launched in December 2020, the company immediately sold all its planned capacity through 2023.

Speaking in interview with vegconomist last year, Bayer described the superfood mycelium fungi. “Our forests are biological cities that run on – and are connected by – a living, underground network of mycelium. The fruiting body of mycelium is familiar to us as the mushroom. But mycelium is much, much more. It’s one of the greatest natural recyclers of material, breaking down old matter and turning it into nutrients that power the forest. This Super Material is a natural biodegradable product, with the remarkable ability to be easily and quickly grown into virtually any shape or form, with endless possibilities that could replace many of our current manufacturing and farming methods.”

Orignially posted Vegoconomist

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Can Mushrooms talk?

can mushrooms talk

Language. While it has long been thought of as a distinguishing factor between humans and other animals, making us unique on planet Earth, recent research has shown many other species, such as bees and dolphins, also possess the ability to communicate.

Now, a new study, published in The Royal Society and conducted by Professor Andrew Adamatzky at the University of the West of England, asks a novel question: can mushrooms talk to each other? Do they too have a language?

And while the findings of his initial study are by no means definitive, the early answer appears to be yes.

Professor Adamatzky’s lab used a mathematical analysis on the electrical signals that fungi send to each other through their hyphae, underground tubes connecting together the mushrooms in a fungal colony, analogous to human nerve cells or the roots of a plant. In the analysis, the lab found that the electrical signals pulse in patterns that are stunningly similar in structure to human languages.

In fact, in the four species of fungi tested, the researcher found that the electric pulses could be organized into “trains” that resemble human words, and that a “lexicon,” or vocabulary, of “up to 50 words” appears to be present.

There also appears to be patterns to the order in which the “words” are used, which would strengthen the idea that there is a “language” at play following a set of rules. In other words, there was a distinct syntax.

can mushrooms talkThere were several other interesting findings presented by Professor Adamatzky. First, in a previous study, his lab found that when an environmental change is induced via mechanical, chemical or optical stimulation, the fungi modify the characteristics of their electrical “spike trains.” Does this indicate that one section of the fungal colony is communicating the changes to the rest of the colony? Could it be sharing information about food or injury? While impossible to say at this point, it is an intriguing hypothesis. But if this were the case, it would be a clear sign of fungal intelligence.

Next, while the measured lexicon tops out at around 50 words, the method of classification was primitive. The lab classified each “word” by measuring the number of electrical spikes within each train, irregardless of the ordering of the spikes. Professor Adamatzky likens this to binary, by saying it is akin to measuring how many ones and zeros are in a particular piece of code, while ignoring their configuration. This could mean that the 50 words that he is measuring, if studied more carefully, could actually be thousands of unique words, making the language much more complex.

Lastly, the variations between different fungi species deserves note. As previously mentioned, Adamatzky studied four different fungi: enoki, split gill, ghost and caterpillar fungi. These mushrooms’ languages varied in complexity, size, and syntax. This suggests different species have different “dialects”.

Personally, I would be fascinated if two colonies of the same species, which had never come in contact with each other, and perhaps originated from different parts of the world, had any variations. To me, this would indicate that what we are witnessing is in fact a culturally evolved language as opposed to a simple biological process. For example, we know that dolphins have developed culturally derived languages since their whistling dialect differs based on geography. Dolphins from different seas, despite being the same species, talk differently.

As exciting as these results are, it is important to remember that this field of study is in its very early days, and many possible explanations exist that could explain Professor Adamatzky’s data other than language.

As Dan Bebber, an associate professor of biosciences at the University of Exeter, told The Guardian, “Though interesting, the interpretation as language seems somewhat overenthusiastic, and would require far more research and testing of critical hypotheses before we see ‘Fungus’ on Google Translate.”

Essentially, what Bebber is saying is that more research needs to be done. Professor Adamatzky would agree with this, and spent the last portion of his paper discussing the direction that future research should go in.

Finally, I and many of my colleagues at Psychedelic Spotlight would be very interested in seeing if and how the language of so-called “magic mushrooms” varies from other species of fungi. I would love to see a similar study conducted on psilocybe cubensis, the most common form of hallucinogenic mushroom. If mushrooms really can communicate and fungal intelligence exists, then it would be a good bet that the mushrooms which are capable of changing our perceptions of reality and consciousness could have the most complex forms of communication. But that is just a guess.

If the ability of language extends beyond humans, not only to other mammals such as dolphins, or insects like bees, but even to different kingdoms like fungi, then humans will be forced to question our uniqueness here on the pale blue dot we call Earth.

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Research Hinting Mushrooms May Reduce Risk Of Cognitive Decline

Mushrooms May Reduce Risk Of Cognitive Decline

Maybe all mushrooms are magic. Just weeks after scientists tell us the psychedelic ones could one day be used to treat depression, anxiety and alcohol abuse and even to stop smoking, a team of researchers in Singapore has found evidence that the fleshy, spore-bearing, fruiting bodies of fungus could ward off Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI).

There’s ample evidence that the little toadstools are good for you, provided you avoid the poisonous ones. In addition to being fat-free, low-sodium, low-calorie and cholesterol-free, the good ones are packed with antioxidants, beta glucan fiber, B vitamins, copper and potassium. Even Mayo Clinic dedicates numerous pages on its “Healthy Recipes” section to mushrooms.

The reality is that fungi flourished on Earth for possibly more than 2 billion years, says Russell McLendon, in his article “7 Mind-Bending Facts About Magic Mushrooms.”

“They’ve evolved some impressive tricks during that time, including many that are either fascinating or frightening to humans — and sometimes a bit of both,” McLendon wrote. “Some ancient fungi grew nearly 30 feet tall before trees existed, for example, and today a 400-acre fungus in Oregon may be the largest organism on the planet. Certain fungi can glow in the dark, and a few turn insects into zombies. Some species are lethal to humans, while others provide us with valuable super foods…Yet even after centuries of experience, we are only now demystifying many of the magical — and medicinal — powers these mushrooms possess.”

And now a team from the departments of Psychological Medicine and Biochemistry at the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine in Singapore has found that seniors who consume more than two standard portions of mushrooms weekly may have 50% reduced odds of having MCI. Results of the six-year study were published online in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease this month.

Researchers said compared with participants who consumed mushrooms less than once per week, those who ate two portions per week had reduced odds of having MCI and that the “association was independent of age, gender, education, cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption, hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, physical activities and social activities. Our cross-sectional data support the potential role of mushrooms and their bio-active compounds in delaying neurodegeneration.”

Six types of mushrooms were analyzed in the study, and all were shown to be associated with reduced levels of MCI. They included golden, oyster, shiitake and white button mushrooms, as well as dried and canned mushrooms. However, according to study authors, it’s likely that other mushrooms not referenced would have also indicated beneficial effects.

The study was conducted from 2011 to 2017 on more than 600 Chinese seniors over the age of 60 living in Singapore. The study was supported by the Life Sciences Institute and the Mind Science Centre at NUS, as well as the Singapore Ministry of Health’s National Medical Research Council.

Researchers defined a portion as three quarters of a cup of cooked mushrooms with an average weight of around 150 grams. “While the portion sizes act as a guideline, it was shown that even one small portion of mushrooms a week may still be beneficial to reduce chances of MCI,” researchers noted.

“This correlation is surprising and encouraging. It seems that a commonly available single ingredient could have a dramatic effect on cognitive decline,” said lead author, Assistant Professor Feng Lei, of NUS Psychological Medicine.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, about 15 to 20% of people age 65 and older have Mild cognitive impairment (MCI). The condition causes a “slight but noticeable and measurable decline in cognitive abilities, including memory and thinking skills.” Cognitive changes in individuals with MCI are serious enough to be noticed by them and other people but not severe enough to interfere with daily life or independent function.

While a person with MCI is at an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s or another dementia, the condition does not always progress. In some cases, MCI reverts to normal cognition or remains stable.

Older adults afflicted with MCI experience memory loss but may also show a deficit in other cognitive functions such as language, attention and visuospatial abilities. The changes can be subtle and not as disabling as the cognitive deficits of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

“People with MCI are still able to carry out their normal daily activities. So, what we had to determine in this study is whether these seniors had poorer performances on standard neuropsychological tests than other people of the same age and education background,” said Feng. “Neuropsychological tests are specifically designed tasks that can measure the various aspects of a person’s cognitive abilities. Some of the tests we used in this study were adopted from a commonly used IQ test known as the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale.”

Feng said the researchers conducted extensive interviews and tests with participants for the study, which took into account demographic information, medical history, psychological factors and dietary habits. Researchers measured blood pressure, weight, height, hand-grip and walking speed as well as a simple screen test on cognition, depression and anxiety.

Two-hour standard neuropsychological assessments were performed and dementia ratings given. “The overall results of these tests were discussed in depth with expert psychiatrists involved in the study to get a diagnostic consensus,” Feng said.

Researchers said they believe the reason for the reduced prevalence of MCI in mushroom eaters may come down to a specific compound found in almost all varieties. “We’re very interested in a compound called ergothioneine (ET),” said Dr. Irwin Cheah, senior research fellow at NUS Biochemistry. “ET is a unique antioxidant and anti-inflammatory which humans are unable to synthesize on their own. But it can be obtained from dietary sources, one of the main ones being mushrooms.”

2016 study by the team on senior Singaporeans revealed that plasma levels of ET in participants with MCI were “significantly lower than age-matched healthy individuals.” The study, which was published in the journal Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications, led researchers to believe that a deficiency in ET might be a risk factor for neurodegeneration, and that increasing ET intake through mushroom consumption could possibly promote cognitive health.

Researchers said other compounds in mushrooms may also be advantageous for decreasing the risk of cognitive decline. “Certain hericenones, erinacines, scabronines and dictyophorines may promote the synthesis of nerve growth factors. Bioactive compounds in mushrooms may also protect the brain from neurodegeneration by inhibiting production of beta amyloid and phosphorylated tau, and acetylcholinesterase,” they wrote.

“Emerging evidence has suggested that mushrooms may have neuroprotective properties,” the authors wrote. Still, even with the “promising” results, since only two epidemiological studies have looked at the cognitive benefits of eating mushroom in elderly people, it “remains unknown if mushroom consumption is associated with reduced odds of having MCI,” the researchers noted.

Researchers say next they may look into performing a randomized controlled trial with the pure compound of ET and other plant-based ingredients, such as L-theanine and catechins from tea leaves, to determine the efficacy of such phytonutrients in delaying cognitive decline. Feng said the team also hopes to identify other dietary factors that could be associated with healthy brain aging and reduced risk of age-related conditions in the future.

Originally published on Forbes

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