THE THIRD MODE OF LIFE
Mushrooms may be conspicuous but they are the tip of the iceberg. The body of the fungus is a vast filamentous network of hyphae hidden below ground or inside the body of the plant or animal it is feasting on.
Biologists traditionally divide life into single- cell or multicellular organisms. Mark Fricker, a biologist at Oxford University, says this network represents “a third mode of life”.
Like a brain, these networks are adaptive. They respond to the environment, allowing fungi to deploy nutrients where they are most needed, explore resources, combat enemies or make urgent repairs. They are nature’s most efficient and resilient network.
Fricker is developing models to learn how these adaptive properties emerge and might be applied to solve the problems of man-made networks such as rail lines.