Without mushrooms, life is not possible!
Although fungi have a great impact on living things, research on fungi is not given much importance. But mycologist Merlin Sheldrake is trying to change that: “Mushrooms are everywhere, and mushrooms are the future,” he says, explaining why mycology is on the rise and why it’s important.
Merlin Sheldrake loved autumn as a child. The leaves in the garden of his family’s house were falling from a large chestnut tree, forming a nice blanket on the ground. Merlin loved to drop himself to the ground and “swim” on that soft cover, lying happily on the ground, “buried in the rustle, lost in the strange smells.” As he writes in his new book, Entangled Life, these autumn piles were both places to hide and worlds to explore.
However, the leaves and some stumps on which he was lying were getting smaller, shriveled and disappearing as the months passed. But why was this happening? He was turning to his science writer father, Rupert Sheldrake, for an answer. It was there that Merlin had learned how to decay, which is part of the life cycle.
Merlin was a curious child; He grew up and continued this curiosity with his education in fungal science (mycology). Now The Guardian writer Rachel Cooke was chatting with him where he met fungi and learned what rot means. “In East Asia, mushrooms have been loved and revered for thousands of years,” says Merlin. “In China, there are temples for man who figured out how to grow shiitake mushrooms. But yes, it was neglected in the West.”
The development of technology and the historical process increase the interest in mycology
Merlin thinks there are two reasons for this omission. The first is simple: Technologies that allow scientists to fully explore the fungal world have only recently become available. After all, thanks to today’s technologies, there are technologies that open the door to those gigantic and magnificent hidden realms that lie beneath us, invisible to the naked eye.
The second reason is historical. “There is a built-in disciplinary bias,” says Merlin. “Mushrooms were not considered to have a sedentary life cycle until the 1960s. For this reason, mycologists were placed in a corner of the botanical department rather than the fungicide department per se. That also had a huge impact.” he says, “if you don’t train researchers in a field, that part will be neglected,” he concludes.
Merlin points out here that mushrooms are a very important part of their inner life and the natural world of interaction. In other words, he emphasizes that the science of fungi is a field worth researching on its own.
Merlin continues: “The taxonomy of mushrooms has been a complete mess for ages. Linnaeus, the father of botany, described it as chaos. During the Middle Ages and until the 18th century, people could not grasp anything. They thought that the mushrooms appeared where the lightning struck, and that they could tell which was poisonous by boiling it with a wooden spoon.”
Indeed, even now, especially non-mycologists, have strange feelings about fungi; In the case of mushrooms, they slip into a peculiar ambivalence that can encompass both disgust and fear, as well as a strong attraction.
However, with his new book, Entangled Life, in which he explains how important the field of mycology is, Merlin tries to break down these preconceptions, remove the aversion to mushrooms, and explain the magical world of mushrooms in an understandable language. Praised by the naturalists Robert Macfarlane and Helen Macdonald, it is an astonishing book that could change our perception of mushrooms forever; seems to somehow subvert stereotypical ideas about the natural world.
Without fungi, there would be no plants, in short, no life.
Merlin earned a PhD in tropical ecology from the University of Cambridge for his work examining the relationship between subterranean fungal networks and trees in the forests of Panama’s Barro Colorado Island. His main interest is mycorrhizal fungi, a species that lives in symbiosis with plants. Such fungi touch the ends of plant roots with their “limbs” called hypae at the cellular level; in this way, individual plants are connected by an underground network. This is an amazing thing! We’re talking about a large, highly complex, collaborative structure called the “Wood Wide Web”.
Merlin also has the ability to make difficult ideas easy to understand. He also mentions that in the future, fungi will play an important role in our understanding of ecology. Because this is a phenomenon related to a number of new technologies from building materials to sustainable foods, from packaging products to alternative “leather” and our waste.
Industrial agriculture harms fungi
But why are mycorrhizal relationships important? Because 90% of the plants, which are the foundation of everything that keeps us alive, depend on them. “Mechanized industrial agriculture has done great damage to the microbial symbiosis of plants,” says Merlin. “These fungi not only feed the plants, they protect them from disease, they hold the soil together and create carbon channels in it.” Carbons, the main component of soil, help it retain water and make it fertile.
Scientists harness the power of such networks. In Japan, for example, slime molds are used to design transportation networks. “Computers take a long time to navigate through all the possibilities, but an organism can find the optimal path fairly quickly and ‘algorithms’ can be developed,” Merlin said. says. And this is just the beginning! There is a lot of untapped potential. Because only 6-8% of the mushrooms in the world have been detected so far.
Merlin Sheldrake also mentions fungi that cause mental changes in his book: “Why do some people think that psilocybin [bir psychedelic bileşik] We still don’t know what it contains. It’s even been suggested that it’s meant to surprise insects approaching to eat them, but the problem with this theory is that it doesn’t seem very effective,” he says. But what really intrigues him is the more bizarre facts about mushrooms: the feeling of “dizziness” he felt as a child when he first realized that the world below was just as diverse, ingenious, and infinitely vast as those above.
A single mushroom filament can lift an 8-ton bus
It is this strange world of mushrooms that creates a giddiness in Merlin, along with a childlike curiosity. To give a few examples, let’s first explain the filaments of fungi: The filaments form the branching mass mycelium, which forms the involuntary (vegetative) part of the fungus. At the same time, they “build” structures that can show more special and surprising properties. Some can act 10,000 times faster than a space shuttle when they discharge their spores like a blast effect.
What’s more, they’re so strong that they can even go through asphalt and lift pavers. One study estimates that even a single strand could lift an 8-ton bus if it was as wide as a human hand. Their size is as gigantic as a forest; If you separate the mycelium in a gram of soil and lay it end to end, it can stretch from 100 meters to 10 kilometers.
How to treat mushrooms?
When Rachel Cooke asks Merlin how best to treat the fungus world, her answer is simple and clear: “We need to stop spraying fungicide.” says. “A slight change in the law could make this practice illegal.” Rachel said, “But what should we do?” Asks Merlin, “at certain times of the year, there are citizen-scientists reporting fungi and showing how they are responding to climate change. That’s a nice thing to do for mushrooms.” He adds: “However, protection of fungi is still in its infancy. In 2018, there were only 56 fungal species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list, compared to tens of thousands of plants and animals. Beyond that, if you’re picking mushrooms, don’t take all of them, leave some and try not to damage the nets by digging in the ground.”
There are many ways to connect with mushrooms. Merlin Sheldrake ate mushrooms every day while working on Entangled Life: “It was a way of reminding myself that I was talking about living things; I am part of the metabolic cycles that I write about.” says. Once he had a physical copy of the book, he grew some mushrooms on it. He then posted a video of him cooking and eating the mushrooms that grew on top of his book. (You can find the video in the bibliography.)
“I have many scientific articles to publish. There’s a lot of experimentation to be done. But I need some money.” Merlin says it’s difficult. “Explaining mycology is not easy, especially to lay people. While everyone knows what a bird or tree is, the language of the microbial realm feels foreign and its constituent elements are invisible to the naked eye.” Merlin is right around here, wandering these far shores of biology.
The book should be translated into Turkish
Merlin Sheldrake’s Entangled Life is a tribute to the fungi that make plants land. Imagine a web that connects the trees that give us life. A web that is a huge web that takes over mind control of living life. And it is these mushrooms that have been in contact with humanity since the beginning of agriculture and that enable alcohol and bread making.
Let’s call out to respected publishers in Turkey from here. Fungal biologist Merlin Sheldrake’s book, Entangled Life, is waiting to be translated into Turkish with its clear language and content that sheds light on the magical but scientific world of mushrooms.