Mushrooms “talk” to each other using a special electrical dictionary.

A bioinformatician who specializes in fungi has attempted to unlock the secrets of fungal communication, and the result is fascinating, though not entirely conclusive.

Communication is an essential element for the survival of almost all living species and all sides of the living spectrum. Researchers have already documented a thousand and one means by which nature is able to understand itself, from the vocalizations of birds to the chemical communication of insects to the facial expressions of primates.

On the other hand, there are others for whom it is much more difficult. For example, it has already been shown that plants communicate through chemical compounds secreted at the root level. But the technical details are often extremely subtle and vary greatly from species to species; even though we understand so many mechanisms, we are still very far from fully understanding plant communication.

And mushrooms are even worse. By analogy with plants, researchers in the natural sciences quickly became interested in the mycelium, a structure that can (rather vulgarly) be called the “roots” of fungi.

They have long noticed that this network of mycelium regularly through electrical signals; so they assumed that this current probably had direct link to contact method. After all, this is how intercellular communication is arranged in many animals. For example, in mammals, this communication is largely due to a special structure – the peripheral nervous system, which allows you to transport an electrical signal from one place to another.

Common schizophyllum is a champion in vocabulary, with about 50 “words” on its account. © Bernard Spragg – WikiCommons

Living beings are still very mysterious

Therefore, many researchers put forward the hypothesis that the mycelium could be the functional equivalent of our nervous system. But when it came to confirming this conjecture, scientists hit a wall; no one has been able to come up with at least the beginning of a decisive element to unravel the secrets of this hypothetical language … at least until this week.

For if biology is a centuries-old discipline that develops relatively slowly, then this does not apply to computer science. This tool has already redefined everyday science at all levels and continues to evolve very rapidly. So we’re seeing a real snowball effect with more and more significant discoveries, which in themselves open doors for new work… and so on.

It was one of these analytical techniques that enabled computer scientist Andrew Adamacki to write an absolutely fascinating research paper. He applied a set of electrodes to a range of different mushrooms in order to measure the various electrical current variables in the mycelium.

After taking amplitude, frequency, and duration measurements, he compiled these data into a gigantic database. Then he was able tocompare this basis to all neurological patterns associated with human speech. This approach allowed him to isolate a set of electrical signals that, in his opinion, functionally corresponded to “words”.

On the brink of anthropocentrism

In other words: he determined what could be likened to the real “mushroom language ! And the last one seems surprisingly complex. Adamatsky spotted dozens of words they are all used slightly differently depending on the species. The most “educated” of these mushrooms was the common schizophyll, a small porcini mushroom that breeds on dead wood. In this species, Adamatsky found at least 50 “words”, which were also organized into “sentences”.

Behind do not fall into anthropocentrism pure and solid, Adamatsky did not try to “translate” these messages. Moreover, he is careful not to offer definitions of “word” and “language” in this particular context; in any case, they do not correspond to our human conception of these concepts. On the other hand, it shows unequivocally that there are indeed very specific reasons for communication and that these are the basis of the form of communication.

There is no doubt that in the future this approach will be restored in other works to try to refine these results. The goal will not necessarily be to try to translate individual messages; instead, researchers will try to understand the intricacies of this mode of communication, which seems to work on a very large scale. And this is a particularly exciting prospect.

Because it’s not just about understanding mushrooms themselves; most interesting to understand how they interact with their ecosystems. Because living beings play a fundamental role of the center, the importance of which should never be underestimated.

Mycelium Pleurotus ostreatus. © Toby Kellner – WikiCommons

Problems of understanding life at all levels

They are among the most important decomposers in many ecosystems. They are also an indispensable resource for many living beings. It’s very simple: without mushrooms, nature as we know it would not exist. But apart from these basic issues, they also play a very subtle role in the dynamics of ecosystems.

To illustrate this particular location, we can take the example of mycorrhiza. Without going into details, this term means special relationship between plant and fungus who colonized the area around his roots. They work in symbiosis, that is, they coexist peacefully and provide ecological services to each other (supply of resources, protection from predators, etc.).

In this research work, the terms “words” and “language” are deliberately used quite widely; Obviously, we are not talking about comparing fungal expression with human expression, which has many, many additional levels of complexity. © PDPics – Pixabay

Research has already shown that this symbiosis is decisive for many species. At present it is still an extremely studied subject; many biologists believe that these mycorrhiza hide potentially very important secrets for our understanding of life.

The ability to interpret the “language” of mushrooms would be a decisive step forward at this level. And this is just a tree, behind which lies a huge forest. Overall, many scientists expect fungi to play several very important roles in many other areas that we don’t have. don’t even know yet.

Moral of the story: Mushrooms have their own “language”! Of course, obviously necessary be very careful in comparison with human language; we are talking here about a system that is closer to the nervous system than to a real language, with all the consequences in terms of intentionality, semantics, and so on. But it’s still a fascinating gateway that could lead to great discoveries about these critical players in our environment… and by extension, all the ecosystems they inhabit.

The text of the study is available here.

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