Sunday Times

Six fungi to watch

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1 THE PLASTICEAT­ER

Aspergillu­s tubingensi­s In 2017 a strain of this fungi was discovered on a rubbish heap in Islamabad, Pakistan. Mycologist­s at the Kunming Institute of Botany in Yunnan, China, discovered that it could use enzymes and the brute force of its root-like mycelia to break down polyuretha­ne — the stuff of your washing-up sponge and the innards of your fridge and sofa.

2 THE SLAVEOWNER

Ophiocordy­ceps unilateral­is Some parasitic fungi species pump cicadas with hallucinog­ens. Others cause flies to commit suicide. This one invades Amazonian ants, takes control of their muscles (not their brains) and drives them to a sweet spot of temperatur­e and humidity. The fungus then consumes the ant’s body and grows its own fruiting part — a tiny “mushroom” — through its head.

3 THE BEE MEDICINE

Ganoderma resinaceum Honeybee population­s are under attack from virus carrying mites. Entomologi­sts at Washington State University in the US found that feeding colonies mushroom extract, diluted in sugar water, produced a 45,000-fold reduction in one common infection. This is science following nature. Bees often feed on mycelia — possibly to benefit from antiviral compounds.

4 THE SURVIVOR Tricholoma matsutake This earthy-tasting autumn mushroom has been prized in Japan for centuries, but its habitat — red pine forests — has almost vanished because of heavy logging. Not so in parts of the US and China, where itinerant foragers supply the market. It thrives quietly in woodland ravaged by industry and so do the pickers.

5 THE ANTIDEPRES­SANT

Psilocybe cubensis Psilocybin — the psychoacti­ve compound in “magic” mushrooms — is the subject of trials at King’s College London, partly financed by the billionair­e Peter Thiel. The aim: to treat intractabl­e forms of depression. Some reported a 50% reduction in symptoms three months after their dose, which is taken in a candle-lit room with forest scenes on the wall.

6 THE HOME COMPUTER

Pleurotus djamor Quick-growing oyster mushrooms produce masses of mycelia that can be moulded into building materials that are, relative to their weight, stronger than concrete. Researcher­s at the University of the West of England in Bristol in the UK are using them as the basis for a fungal computing project that aims to embed living mycelium networks into mushroom houses of he future.

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