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BBC – Future – Unexpected magic of mushrooms

Under the feet of Jim Anderson lies the monster. He is alive because the Persian King Xerxes waged war against the ancient Greeks and weighs more than three blue whales together. She has an appetite appetite, eating her way through huge forests. But this is not a forgotten beast that has been sacrificed from Greek mythology. This is a mushroom.

Anderson stands in a modest forest in the Crystal Waterfall, on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He looks at the body of the living under the forest, which he and his colleagues discovered almost 30 years ago. This is the house Armillaria gallica type of mushroom honey.

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These common mushrooms are found in moderate forests across Asia, North America and Europe, where they grow on dead or dying trees, helping to accelerate decay. Often, the only visible sign of them above the ground is the chest of a scaly, yellow-brown frog-stool, similar to the body of plants growing up to 1

0 cm

When Anderson and his colleagues visited Crystal Falls in the late 1980s, they discovered that, which originally appeared to be a rich community Armillaria gallica flourished under the mulch of leafy litter and upper soil of the forest floor – in fact – one gigantic individual sample. They estimated that he occupied an area of ​​about 91 hectares, weighed 100 tons and was at least 1500 years old. She set a new record at that time for the largest body on the planet – a similar fungus in the woods in Oregon now has a record.

"This caused a great turmoil at that time," says Anderson. "Our newspaper went out on Fool's Day so everyone thought it was a joke. Then in 2015, we thought that we should go back and check our prediction that it is truly sustainable, the only organism. "

New results have shown that it is four times more, 1000 years older, and if we get together, weighs about 400 tons [19659009] They eventually returned to the site several times between 2015 and 2017, taking samples from distant points in the forest, and then conducting the DNA they received through the sequencer back in their laboratory at the University of Toronto. From the time of their first study in the 1980s, genetic analysis has advanced within, with new methods that make the process much cheaper, faster, and providing more information.

Their new samples showed that not only Armillaria gallica they discovered a single individual, but it was much larger and older than they envisioned. The new results have shown that it is four times more, 1000 years older, and if we collect together, weighs about 400 tons.

But the analysis gave an even more wonderful idea that could help us people in our struggle with one of the modern medicines. The biggest enemies are cancer.

Canadian researchers have discovered that it could be a secret Armillaria gallica of "unusual size and age." It seems that the fungus has an extremely low mutation frequency – it means that it avoids potentially harmful changes in its genetic code. Over time, DNA in the cells can damage, resulting in errors known as mutations that are included in the genetic code. It is believed to be one of the key mechanisms of aging

But it seems in Crystal Falls may have built-in resistance to this DNA damage. In 15 samples taken from remote parts of the forest and followed by the team, only 163 letters from 100 million in the genetic code Armillaria gallica [19599005] changed. protecting their DNA from damage, giving it one of the most stable genomes in the natural world

"The frequency of mutations is much, much lower than we could imagine," says Anderson. "In order to have such a low level of mutation, we expect cells to be divided on average once per meter of growth. But it is striking that the cells are microscopic – a size of just a few micrometers – so you will need millions in every meter of growth. "

Anderson and his team believe that the fungus has a mechanism that helps protect its DNA from damage, which gives it one of the most stable genomes in the world of nature. Despite the fact that they still have to figure out what it is like, the great genome stability Armillaria gallica could offer a new idea of ​​the health of a person.

In some types of cancer, mutations can be triggered in cells as normal Mechanisms that check and repair DNA are destroyed

" Armillaria gallica can become a potential contrapunt for the notorious cancer instability," Anderson says. "If you looked at a line of cancer cells that were equivalent in age, it would be so infected with mutations that you would probably not be able to recognize. Armillaria is on the opposite side. Evolution changes could be distinguished. , which allowed it to be similar and compare it with cancer cells. "

This would not only allow scientists to learn more about what's wrong with cancer cells, but it can also give potential potential." New ways to treat cancer. "

] Although Anderson and his colleagues do not They do it alone to do this work – they leave it to others who are younger and more skilled to understand the genetic complexity of the cancer – their results give an intriguing view of the untapped power of mushrooms that help humanity.

The combined biomass of fungi exceeds that of all animals on the planet taken together

Mushrooms are among the most common organisms on our planet – the combined biomass of these often small organisms surpasses all the animals on the planet together. And we constantly open new mushrooms. More than 90% of the approximately 3.8 million mushrooms in the world are currently unknown to science. Only in 2017 were registered 2189 new types of fungi described by scientists

A recent report, published by the British Royal Botanic Garden of Kew in London, emphasized that mushrooms are already used in hundreds of different ways: from paper manufacturing to help clean our dirty clothes. About 15% of all vaccines and biologically produced drugs come from fungi. For example, complex proteins used for the immune response to the hepatitis B virus are grown in yeast cells that are part of the family of fungi.

Perhaps the most well-known antibiotic is penicillin, which was found in an ordinary type of household form, which often grows on old bread. Dozens of other types of antibiotics are now produced by mushrooms

They are also sources of treatment for migraines and statins for the treatment of heart disease. One relatively new immunosuppressant used to treat multiple sclerosis was developed from a compound produced by a fungus infecting cicada larvae.

"This is part of the seven mushrooms that fall into and take on insects," says Tom Prescott, a researcher who evaluates the use of plants and mushrooms in the Royal Botanic Garden of Kew. "They produce these compounds to suppress the immune system of insects and it turns out that they can be used by humans."

But some researchers believe that we barely scratched the surface of what mushrooms can offer us.

Mushrooms can kill viruses that cause diseases such as influenza, poliomyelitis, parotitis, measles, and glandular fever

"Already recorded [fungi] activity against viral diseases," says Rick Linnakoski, forest pathologist at the Institute of Natural Resources of Finland. Fungal-derived compounds can kill viruses that cause diseases such as influenza, poliomyelitis, parotitis, measles and glandular fever. Numerous mushrooms were also found to produce compounds that could cure diseases that are currently not treated, such as HIV and Zic.

"I believe that they represent only a small fraction of the full arsenal of bioactive compounds," says Linnaeka. . "Mushrooms are a great source of different bioactive molecules that can potentially be used as antiviral agents in the future."

She is part of a research team that studies whether mushrooms growing in Colombia's mangrove forests can be the source of new antiviral drugs. However, these goals have not yet been realized. Although mushrooms have been well studied as a source of antibiotics that act against bacteria, antiviral preparations derived from fungi have not been approved.

Linnakoski puts this obvious omission of the scientific community in the difficulty of collecting and growing many fungi from the natural environment and the historic lack of links between the experts in the field of microbiology and the virology community. But she believes that only a matter of time when an antiviral drug based on mushrooms gets to the clinic.

Linnaeka also believes that the search for new types of fungi in unfriendly environments, such as the seabed sediment, some of the deepest parts of the ocean, or the highly changing conditions of mangrove forests, can give even more exciting compounds.

"Extreme conditions are believed to provoke mushrooms to create unique and structurally unprecedented secondary metabolites," she says. . "Unfortunately, many of the natural ecosystems that have great potential for discovering new bioactive compounds, such as mangrove forests, disappear at an alarming pace."

A fungus found to grow on the ground at the outskirts of Islamabad, Pakistan can quickly destroy polyurethane plastics

But mushrooms have applications that can solve other problems beyond our health.

A fungus found to be growing in soil at a polygon in the outskirts of Islamabad, Pakistan, can be a solution to the disturbing levels of plastic pollution that clog our oceans. Farikha Hassan, a microbiologist at the University of Quaid-I-Azam in Islamabad, found that mushrooms Aspergillus tubingensis can quickly split polyurethane plastics.

These plastics, which are used for the manufacture of a wide range of products, including Pine furniture, electronic cases, adhesives and films, can be found in soil and seawater for many years. Mushrooms, however, found that they broke it within a few weeks. Now Hassan and her team are studying how to use mushrooms for massive degradation of plastic waste. Other mushrooms, such as Pestalotiopsis microspore which usually grow on rotten leaves of ivy, have also been found to have a great appetite for plastics, which increases the hopes that they can be used to address our growing waste problem.

In fact, mushrooms have a sufficient taste to pollution, which we pollute our world. Detected species that can clear oil pollution from the soil, worsen harmful heavy metals, consume sustained pesticides, and even help to rebuild radioactive sites.

Mushrooms, however, may also help to avoid the need to use some plastics

Some groups around the world are trying to use the key feature of mushrooms – the venipuncture micelles they produce – to create materials that can replace plastic packaging. As mushrooms grow, these filaments of mycelium branch outward, probing into corners and slopes in the soil, knitting it together. It is a natural glue.

In 2010, Ecovative Design began to study how they could use it to capture natural waste such as rice husks or cod, to produce alternatives to polystyrene packaging. Their early work turned into MycoComposite, which uses the remainder of the hemp plants as the main material

They are packed in multiple forms, along with mushroom spores and flour, which then remain to grow for at least nine days. They make enzymes that begin to digest waste. Once the material has turned into a desired shape, it is then treated with heat to dry the material and stop further growth. The packaging of mushrooms that are formed is biodegradable and is already used by companies such as Dell to pack their computers. skin. Working with Bolt Threats' durable fabrics, it combines corn micelles stems of waste, allowing it to grow into a mat that is tanned and compressed. The whole process takes a few days, not years necessary for the skin of animals.

Stella McCartney is one of the designers who seeks to use this mushroom skin and designer Liz Ciokajlo, a newly used micelle to create a modern fashion modification

You can adjust the quality of mycelium material by changing it to digest it

Atanasia Atanasiu, a scientist from the materials of the Italian Institute of Technology in Genoa, uses mushrooms to develop new types of drugs for the treatment of chronic wounds

But she also found that it is possible to adjust the quality of the material to mycelium, changing and those that he must digest. The heavier the substance for the digestion of mushrooms – such as woodcock, and not potato peeling – the harder material is formed, for example

. This raises the prospect of using fungi for more reliable purposes.

MycoWorks developed ways to turn mushrooms into building materials. By fusing wood together with mycelium, they were able to create bricks that are fire-proof and tougher than conventional concrete.

Thien Huyn, a biotechnologist at the Royal Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Australia, led the project to create similar fungal bricks, combining mycelium with rice shells and crushed waste

She says that they not only provide cheap and environmentally friendly building material , but also help solve another problem of homes in Australia and throughout the world – termites. The content of silicon in rice and glass makes the material less appetizing to termites, which annually cause billions of dollars of damage to buildings.

"In our studies, we also used mushrooms to produce enzymes and new biostructures for different properties, including sound absorption, strength and flexibility," says Huynh. Her team is also working on the use of mushrooms for the production of chitin – a substance used to condense products and in many cosmetic products.

"Chitin is usually treated with mollusks that have hypoallergenic properties," she says. "Fungal chitin does not have. We will have more fungal products later this year, but this is definitely an exciting resource that is not used enough. " grows into any cracks that form, highlighting fresh calcium carbonate – the main raw material in concrete – to eliminate damage.

College and Assam University Don Bosco in Guwahati, India. He and his colleagues use mushrooms and hay waste to create an alternative to a tree for construction. "All that we now call agricultural waste is in fact an incredible resource on which mushrooms can grow. We have already degraded the environment and therefore if we can replace the existing materials with those that are going to be on a steady path. They can take our waste and turn it into something that really is valuable to us. "

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