Mycology 101 - Episode 2
Intro: Welcome to Mushroom Revivals Shroom Podcast. Want to learn about the magical world of mushrooms, herbs, medicine, cooking, foraging, and more? Sit back, tune in, and Shroom in. Don’t forget to follow Mushroom Revival on Instagram and head over to www.mushroom-revival.com.
Alex: Hey! Welcome. Welcome Mush fan. This is episode two of Mushroom Revivals Podcast. So how are you doing Madz?
Madz: I’ m doing great. I’m ready to do a bit of Mycology 101 for anyone out there who needs a little bit of warming up to mushrooms.
Alex: Amazing. So, the last episode – in case you missed it – we had a great kind of intro to Mushroom Revival, an interview with me. And in the last week, it’s been a busy week.
Madz: Oh yeah. Super eventful.
Alex: So we got our organic certification. A bunch of new products came in that our certified organic…
Madz: We have a new team member now.
Alex: A new team member, that’s incredible. We both personally moved; our housing. But if you have a chance, go check out our website and check out our new products and our new blends. They’re really, really cool. We’ve been working our butts off on them, so really excited. We’re now the only certified organic cordyceps farm in this half of the globe. So pretty, pretty astounding. We had a party this weekend. It was a lot of fun.
Madz: It was a great party; party at my new place.
Alex: A lot of cordyceps elixirs going on. Yeah, so it’s been an eventful weekend. We’re ready to go and gear into Myco 101 for people that are just getting into the mushroom world, it’s super exciting, and we want to, you know, hold your hand through it all.
Alex: So let’s jump in, maybe start with some disclaimers, and this is for the entire podcast that, you know, we’re not doctors, we’re not historians.
Madz: We’re not mycologist, even. We’re just kids.
Alex: We’re just a bunch of humble, curious humans…
Speaker 3; With the Google search buttons.
Alex: And, you know, years of experience.
Madz: So fungi: they permeate the world, they’re decomposers, they’re soil makers. They are kind of the interface between life and death in the little circle of life. Definitely necessary.
Alex: I like to think of them as the humble stewards of our world.
Madz: So what is a fungus?
Alex: It’s a network of multicellular filaments, they’re yeasts. I’m sure a lot of people know yeast is in your beer, your wine, your bread, molds, mushrooms, truffles lichen – lichen is a symbiosis between algae and fungi and many more. Fungi is a vast and diverse kingdom of organisms. This is the whole kingdom or queendom
Madz: And they outnumber plants six to one, which is insane. Let’s see, we have 120 thousand species described so far, but there’s an estimated 2.2 to 3.8 million.
Alex: Wow! That’s a lot. That’s like discovering the population of Indonesia and having the rest of the world unknown. Alien species coming to our planet, just landing on Indonesia, just that group of islands and looking at that population there and the species of plants and everything there, and just getting that glimpse of planet earth. We have the whole rest of the globe.
Madz: It’s exciting; like who knows what’s to come
Alex: And we’re constantly finding new species of fungi that can degrade plastic that, you know, we’re finding that…
Madz: There’s probably an undiscovered species, like in your belly button right now, in all of ours.
Alex: Probably. Yeah, in all of our belly buttons. So we’re going to request at the end of these podcasts, you send samples in and we’ll figure it out. Maybe we’ll name one after you. So, let’s go through some quick vocabulary. We’re gonna throw out a bunch of words in this podcast and in a lot of others that, you know, you’re probably like, what is that? What’s a spore? That’s the first one, what is a spore?
Madz: It’s a genetic pouch containing about 50% of the DNA needed to grow more fungi. You can think of it as a seed. It seems a lot like a fungal seed.
Alex: Nice. And how big is a spore?
Madz: Depends. They come in all shapes and sizes and morphologies and itself a vast
Alex: Yes. And for a lot of people, ID-ing mushrooms, the spore color and size, and shape is one of the indicators of ID. So whether it’s black spores or white spores or shaped in a circle or a more of an oval. And so, let’s go for the second quick vocab word hyphae. Hyphae are single cellular filaments that make up the mycelium. So once the spore germinates, it germinates into hyphae and those, the hyphae together they find a mate and make mycelium. What is mycelium? It’s the cottony network of hyphae, it’s the mothership of the mushroom. It’s kind of the roots of the mushroom.
Madz: Most of the organism itself is mycelium. It’s going to be like 90, 95%.
Alex: Yeah. And some fungi don’t even make mushrooms, some just stay mycelium. So that’s really interesting
Madz: So then, what’s a mushroom? Why don’t they often make mushrooms?
Alex: What is a mushroom? What does mushroom? Mushroom is a fruiting body of the fungi. So you can think of it, you know, it’s the temple of copulation. It’s where reproduction happens and it’s where the spores are made in a lot of species of fungi. And it’s something that’s sometimes delicious, sometimes has a lot of medicinal properties. And everyone knows the generic cap-in-stem mushroom, that is on our emojis on our phone. If we go walking in the woods or we see them popping out of a tree or out of the ground that is a mushroom and it holds the spores, which, you know, is making sure its kids can have a better life than it did. And so it’s spreading his DNA and it’s just like a kind of a rocket station to send out its rockets of DNA into other environments.
Madz: And mushroom geometry is also very vast. It’s not just cap-in-stem, you see things like chaga which looks like piece of coal,
Which isn’t a mushroom, it’s a sclerotium; it’s like a dense form of mycelium, but yeah, many, many different shapes and sizes.
Madz: Veils and the coral fungi Yeah. Every color too.
Alex: And our 08:15militarius] their fruiting bodies are actually these little bumps on the surface of what we think is the mushroom. And they’re called parathesium and they’re on the stroma and yeah, they’re really fun. So they come in all shapes and sizes, some as big as my pinky nail or smaller and some, you know, the size of my leg. So what about inoculate?
Madz: Inoculate is a term used when you’re introducing organisms to a substrate. So any mushroom farmer is inoculating a lot of the time when you yeah, transfer.
Madz: It’s an important word for farming mushrooms.
Alex: Right. And then we had the substrate. So the substrate would be any substance in which the mycelium colonizers, and digests. So whether it be a log or some sawdust mixture. For us, at the cordyceps farm, we have a kind of a rice substrate with some rice and some different nutrients in the rice. And you know, it totally differs mushroom to mushroom. So some are wood loving, some love poop.
Madz: Yeah. Some love cardboards, coffee grounds…
Alex: Cigarette butts, mattresses, Bibles people; exactly, anything. Don’t tell them about the people; a secret project; don’t want to tell anyone. And then we have spawn. So what is spawn?
Madz: It’s a colonized substrate, usually a grain, and this is really useful for transferring mycelium. So if you’re ever working with Agua or liquid culture, a lot of times you’ll put it into a grain spawn, let that colonize, which you then use to introduce to a new substrate, which is like, we just talked about, be a variety of things.
Alex: Great. So fungi, you know, they’re all around our world. Like we were talking about, you know, they’re in our beer, our wine, our bread, our detergents; a lot of our antibiotics like penicillin, you know, that’s fungi
Madz: Cheese? That’s penicillium roqueforti, I think. So it’s very ubiquitous in surprising places.
Alex: Great. Yeah. Yeah. And it’s everywhere and we’re starting to see it pop up a lot in popular culture. So we’re starting to see mushrooms in coffee and mushrooms in chocolate. And, you know, if you go to the health food store, we’re seeing more and more supplements with mushrooms. Thank you. And it’s exciting; we’re starting to see it emerge from the background and come from this humble steward background into more of the forefront and how they can really help us and take the spotlight in this day and age. I wrote a book a couple of years ago on how fungi can degrade and filter toxic waste in our environment. But that’s just a small facet of what fungi can do. We’re seeing them in biomaterials and how they can make insulation for housing. And we’re seeing more and more of them just being infused in every product; in soaps and anything you can imagine.
And they’re all around us. So, even in our medicine, there’s a statistic – I don’t know how true it is – but 40% of our pharmaceuticals in the USA are derived from fungi. And a lot of pharmaceuticals, are derived from fungi. There’s PSK, polysaccharide krestin, which is the number one cancer drug in Japan. And it has been for many years and that is derived from turkey tail. So the main medicinal compound in turkey tail is PSK – polysaccharide krestin. And this medicine, they just call it krestin on the market. And there it’s all around us, whether we like it or not. One of the funniest things that I experience is when people come up to us and they say, I don’t like mushrooms, you know, and we share over 50% of our DNA with fungi, but not only that, we’re consuming it on a daily basis. If we’re eating bread, if we’re drinking wine, if we’re anything that has yeast in it, which is a lot of things…
Madz: Even in your medicine cabinet. Even if it’s a generic drug, it could have fungi in it.
Alex: Right. And more research being done with endophytic fungi, fungi that are in the cell walls of plants. You know, we’re now discovering that the smell and taste of spearmint is actually not even the plant, but the endophytic fungi in the plant. So we’re now on this brink of discovery of what we thought was the plant. Taxol, for example, we thought that was from the U tree for so long it’s Oh, it came from the U tree. But now, we discovered not too long ago is actually a fungi in the U tree that we’re getting this Taxol medicine from. And yeah, I think we’re starting to question a lot of these medicinal plants and we’ll get into a little bit more with the history of fungi and how they developed on our planet is, you know, is it the plant? Is it the fungi?
And even our fruiting bodies and in our mushrooms that we work with, is it just shiitake, is it just cordyceps militaris, or is it a combination of many different fungi working together? With DNA sequencing and just curiosity, we were figuring out like in, is, you know, a couple of different types of fungi, not just one fungus and one algae, so it’s an exciting time and infinite questions. And every breath we take we’re inhaling one to 10 spores for every breath and as much as 300,000 spores a day, we’re breathing in.
Madz: So they’re with you, whether you like it or not.
Alex: And we did like a little poll on is inhaling spores good? So I just want to answer that question because we just talked about it, no. They are tiny particles, you know, it’s not good to inhale. And there is an instance with schizophyllum commune of someone inhaling spores, and they had a jeopardized immune system and yeah, the mushrooms started growing in their lungs and in their throat and in their gums. That’s, I think the only mushroom that has grown on somebody, you know, there’s candida and athlete’s foot and things like that, but an actual mushroom fruiting body. Yeah, so people are scared of the cordyceps that we’re growing, but that’s not the species that has grown on people. That’ll take some time.
And this same mushroom that I’m talking about that has grown on people’s lungs and things like that, has been found spores of this schizophyllum mushroom has been found underneath the ocean in an undersea vent. And so when researchers were doing undersea drilling, they took some rock samples, put it on a Petri plate and they found some mycelium starting to grow out. And like, wow, you know, they did DNA analysis, they figured it was schizophyllum. It was a mushroom growing. And they were like, wow, this is so cool. And they did carbon dating and they figured out it was 20 million years old just in hibernation and underneath the ocean. And not only did the mycelium start to grow, but it actually produced mushrooms on the Petri plate. So that’s like finding a 20 million-year-old apple tree seed underneath the ocean, under the ocean sea event, putting it in soil, it produces an Apple tree and then it produces apples and you can take, pick it off and take a bite and, you know.
Madz: That’s a lot of patience.
Alex: Yeah. It’s super resilient. And you know, a lot of people think it’s alien and it comes from space. And you know, there’s even an example of some scientists throwing out a piece of lichen out of the US space station for six months in the vacuum of space, just floating in space, you know, radiation, no problem. They pick the piece of lichen and put it back on the US space station and it continued growing like nothing happened. And there are other instances of, of, you know, us finding mycelium and mushrooms at chernobyl growing 100% off radioactive isotopes.
And so they’re super resilient and possibly alien, there’s likely. So let’s just dive into that since we’re bringing it up a lot. Where did mushrooms come from?
Madz: A comet.
Alex: A comet. That’s commonly theorized and yes, since they’re so resilient, they can, you know, spores can survive underneath the ocean for 20 million years or floating in the backroom of space. You know, there are some stories of astronauts finding active spores on the noses of rocket ships reentering the atmosphere. So I don’t find it that hard to believe that, you know, an asteroid or a comet entered our atmosphere way back in the day, carrying these alien spores and
Madz: It was kinda the catalyst of plant and life potentially.
Alex: And some seeds, you know, will germinate with heat. So some species have developed that mechanism to germinate with high heat after a forest fire or something like that. So maybe these spores, these alien spores, had it in their DNA to germinate after entering our atmosphere with the high heat, they landed on the surface and they started growing out, maybe partnered with bacteria. Maybe it was bacteria on the comet as well. And, you know, started growing out and started making this symbiosis. So one of the first land organisms, that we’ve had that was kind of significant was prototaxites. This is a cool termite mound looking piece of lichen that you should look into. And it really, I think sparked the question of where do you land plants come from and how did life kind of evolve?
And this is all a theory. We’re not historians. But the three goes that, you know, with this symbiosis of fungi and bacteria and fungi and algae inside the bacteria that we get the birth of plants. And at first, you know, traditional lichen are about 90, 95% fungi, 5% to 10% inside bacteria are photosynthetic organisms. And you know, as it develops, you know, the trees, all plants that we see today are still a symbiotic relationship between fungi and a photosynthetic organism. So, you know, they haven’t changed that much. And, you know, we see mycorrhizal fungi. mycorrhizal fungi are fungi that attach to the roots of plants. And we see endophytic fungi that we’re talking about before with the U tree. And, you know, Taxol, those are fungi that are in the cell walls of plants. So we’re seeing this again, this symbiosis, you know, with plants, but you know, other insects have this symbiosis as well.
Some bees will take little bits of mycelium and bring it back to their hive to feed their larva. Leafcutter ants in the Amazon. I was in Ecuador talking a little bit about it, the last podcast we did, but sending leaf cutter ants. And these leaf cutter ants will take little bits of the leaves, eat them up and make this fungal nest and grow the mycelium and actually eat the mycelium. Some termites will do the same thing and will just farm this mycelium or farm these mushrooms. And then we get the cordyceps, which, you know, they’re growing off these insects and everything on this universe is just you know, this yin and yang, this duality of what is symbiotic, what is parasitic? And is it all symbiotic in the big scheme of things or is it parasitic?
And, you know, there are big questions to ask, but and then there’s this other theory. So as mushrooms are evolving, as plants are evolving, as these insects are evolving and animals start to come on the scene and dinosaurs and things like that, we get prehistoric homo sapiens. And there’s this theory that you know, homo sapiens stumbled upon these mushrooms and some of these mushrooms had psychoactive properties. And this was before we developed language and to have such a profound experience before the development of language kind of sparked this urge to evolve and, you know…
Madz: Gave them the cognitive vitamins to do so and to do it quickly.
Alex: Right. And there’s a lot of research that psychotropic mushrooms kind of spark neurogenesis in our brain. So with neurogenesis happening in our brain and these profound experiences without the development of language, if I had an experience like that, I would want to talk to my tribe and, you know, share my experience or else I’ll feel like an Island.
Madz: And also self-awareness, it becomes so palpable.
Alex: Like Adam and Eve, and this would say apple. So there’s a lot of theories, the Stony theory if you want to read more; Terence McKenna wrote a book Food of the Gods; it’s a fun book to read. It’s a lot of fun.
Madz: Yeah. Then, I mean, there’s also the Amanita story, the Santa Claus, which could be a whole episode in and of itself, but there’s a lot of parallels between Christmas and mushroom
Alex: Oh, we’re going to save that. Yeah, we’re going to save it. It’s going to be quite a bit of time before Christmas, but I want to have the whole episode for that. I don’t want to give anything away; that’s a juicy topic in and of itself. But you know, they started developing with us and we see all around the globe, this sacred relationship between mushrooms and humans, and we see cave paintings and statues all around the world. And, you know, the oldest naturally preserved human, Otzi the Iceman buried in, well preserved in an icicle 5,300 years ago in the Swiss Alps. He was found with two different types of mushrooms the Birch polypore and the tinder conk. And he was using these two mushrooms, one to carry embers of a fire and the other one to clear intestinal parasites.
So we see this symbiosis with humans since the birth of time. And it’s funny because as we were talking about in the last episode, some countries are mycophobic and some are mycophylic, and it’s curious, and I want to do a whole episode of how that happened. You know, it seems like, from the beginning, we had such a rich relationship with mushrooms, and as we spread across the globe, in some hotspots, we kind of had a falling out and in some hotspots of the globe, it’s such a rich relationship still. And so what happened there? So, you know, they have many different ecosystem roles in our environment. So what would be some ecosystem roles that fungi have in our ecosystem?
Madz: Besides being decomposers and food for a lot of organisms as included. I mean, yeah, pop up all over the place.
Alex: Right. So, symbiotic you know, saprophytic. So saprophytic means decomposing dead or decaying organic matter. had been parasitic. So, so our cordyceps in the wild would be parasitic towards the insect, but then, you know, once an animal eats it, or once a human consumes it, then it’s symbiotic, then it’s giving us benefit. So the whole symbiotic versus parasitic, it’s all based on perspective. It’s totally in perspective. I think they fill all ecosystems worlds and it’s really beautiful to see. And so, how they grow, and how they reproduce, the first kind of buzz word that we defined in our quick vocabulary was spore. And that’s how, you know, most mushrooms will start and we’ll go over kind of the basic life cycle of a Basidiomycota, which is a generic cap-in-stem mushroom, kind of like a shiitake or a button mushroom that you’ll find at a grocery store. And how did those develop and what is their life cycle?
So they start as a spore which is kind of the small seed of the mushroom. Those are shot out into the environment and they have half the DNA available to make another mushroom. And some of these mushrooms have over 20,000 mating types.
Yes. So the top mushroom that has that many mating types is the schizophyllum. And if you remember, schizophyllum was growing on people’s lungs, it was found underneath the ocean, and it has that many mating types for a reason. Humans have two, to put it in perspective. It’s to evolve. It’s to adapt to environments and be able to survive in the vacuum of space; to be able to survive in human lungs, as the person is still alive; to be able to survive underneath the ocean or clean up an oil spill, or be in Chernobyl; is to have as many generic variants as possible and to kind of reproduce as quickly as possible. So these spores come together in their substrate and they’re super hydrophilic. So they attract water and that’s one of the reproductions or the 28:53unclear] personal mechanisms; is while it’s in the gills or in the pores, water droplet gets attracted to the spore and kind of catapults it off. And that’s one of the mechanisms of action. And there’s a lot of studies that show that spores get caught in wind currents and get carried across the Atlantic ocean and tons of things, you know, minerals get trapped in wind currents and go from Africa to the Amazon Rainforest and tons of things.
So the spores are carried in wind currents and there’s this one researcher, his last name is Money, and he was kind of curious on the notion of, do they have any effect on weather? And so since spores are so hydrophilic, they attract water. And if they’re getting carried in these wind cranes, they’re up in the atmosphere, do they have an effect on water on the water cycle? And he’s been studying this for many years. I got the privilege to see one of his presentations at Telluride Mushroom Festival, highly recommend it for anyone who wants to go. And he was talking about actually scooping up these clouds and putting the cloud under a microscope and seeing how many spores were in these clouds in the Amazon Rainforest. And it was a lot. And he has this hypothesis, which is now gaining a lot of notoriety because they’re finding that bacteria do this as well. So some bacteria will flow in the atmosphere and they are also hydrophilic and will bring water molecules together and create clouds and same with these spores. And that is a method of spore dispersals if they can also be trapped in these rain clouds and then rain down and kind of take that raindrop highway and dropdown and then they have the water that they can grow.
So I think it’s beautifully smart whether they’re intentionally orchestrating it or it just happened to evolve that way. Or maybe both, you know, survival of the fittest sort of thing. And NASA actually became curious about this spore dispersal and some mushrooms can disperse millions of spores every day. And they’re like, Whoa, like how can we better…
Madz: We learn from this.
Alex: Yeah. And so, instead of sending one giant rocket ship, they decided to send out millions and millions of nano spaceships, nanobots. And most of them won’t hit a habitable planet, but some of them will. And so these nanorobot spaceships can replicate themselves on a livable planet and then we’ll be chilling on Mars, which I think we need to take care of this planet first.
Madz: I agreed.
Alex: Yeah. But it’s a cool idea. I like it. So after these spores, you know, get ejected out, make their own rain clouds, make it rain, when we go to space, come back, whatever, they land on a substrate. So substrate, we defined in our quick vocab is kind of the food for the fungi. They grow out into these hyphae. And so they’re exploring their environment and they find a mate. So this is kind of like finding who is suitable to mate with them. And once they find that, you know, other fungi – that fun-gal or fun-guy – they come together and make mycelium. And when they’re in mycelium, this is the juicy stage; this is where all the magic happens. They’re exploring, they’re excreting their enzymes to break down whatever food source they have and just decomposing things and sucking up the nutrients.
And yeah, they’re competing against other fungi in there and trying to create a good life for themselves. And, you know, they’re doing the planet a great service. And you know, we have oil today and gasoline and things like that because fungi didn’t have the enzymes available to break down lignin. And so all of this carbon source was piling up and making these now oil pits and fungi didn’t have the enzymes available to break it down. And then they got the tools in their tool belt. And so now when a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to clear it, the fungi come and clean it up. So once mycelium hits some sort of physical barrier or a biological barrier, or just runs out of food, it creates this fruiting body, this mushroom, to keep spreading its spores, to make sure their kids have a better life than they did.
So this is kinda like what we’re doing now; we’re creating, you know, space stations to send rockets to Mars because we’re like, Oh shit, you know, planet earth is really not looking so hot. We need to make a colony on Mars. We’re doing the same thing as mushrooms. So from their end there, if they’re colonizing a log and they’re hitting the ends of the log and they’re like, Ooh, we’re running out of food real quick. We need to make these shiitakes right now and send out these shiitake spores. Go see other logs over there. We’re doing the same thing.
So that’s kind of the basic life cycle of mushrooms. That’s cap-in-stem, you know, it totally changes depending on what type of fungi we’re working with. That’s kind of a basic Basidiomycota lifecycle. This is a short episode, maybe we can do a whole episode just on that and a whole episode on Ascomycota and a whole episode on…
Madz: Basidiomycota. Why not? So what about the future of fungi? I think there’s a lot of potentials, especially with mycomaterial.
Alex: I want to hear you. We kind of covered the basis and I’ve been talking a lot, so I want to hear Madz, what do you think the future of fungi is?
Madz: Yeah, the first thing I would definitely point out is that we’re only scratching the surface. I mean, we, as humans considered fungi to be part of the plant kingdom until 1969. So, you know, it’s kind of a reflection of like how little we know and how much more there is to discover. So I’m hoping it will start making its way into infrastructure packaging; like replacing all these problematic commodities, like plastic, styrofoam, anything toxic. And like you said, with the oil, we’re going to run out soon, like fungi can digest lignin now and we have to find alternatives. So I think this is a very promising area for that. As well as medicine and food, I mean, fungi can make novel compounds and you can kind of prime them to make new enzymes with each life cycle. And like, what does that mean for us? How can we use that to improve literally everything? Whether it be like detergent, medicine, remediation as well; that would be huge.
Alex: And the future is with us and, you know, we’re all pioneers. Something that we didn’t really touch upon is, you know, who are the mycologists out there. There really isn’t a lot of schools that will give you a diploma in mycology; very, very few. And so a lot of mycologists out there either have a background in microbiology or are self-studied and kind of taking the matters into their own hands. You know, I have a degree in mycology but it is self, you know, I made my own major. So it is a major that I developed. So and a lot of people that I know who studied it in university it was kind of create your own major kind of thing. And even in that, it was all self-study and self-experimentation, and just kind of doing it and getting your hands dirty and reading how little information there is out there and then designing our own experiments and saying, okay, we’re reading the scientific papers and this just isn’t there.
And these mycomaterials, we just have to try and try again. I mean, cordyceps, weren’t being grown here five years ago, they’re grown in the wild, but you know, not in culture and even any other mushroom. I mean, the cultivation of mushrooms period is pretty new, you know and sterile culture of mushrooms as well and on a commercial scale. So I think, you know, the future of fungi is bright and it’s a prime time. I don’t know how many listeners are in the United States, but it’s prime time here for mushrooms. In China, they, I think there are the OGs of mushrooms and they have reishi toothpaste that gives people an eye roll because it’s like, yeah, that’s been around forever. But for us, it’s like, wow, we have mushrooms in coffee and it’s so new to us.
So it’s really exciting. And you know, we want to hear from you as well. So we have a mushroom business and we’re doing cool research all the time and we want our listeners to also be part of the family and to also help us pave the way for fungi in our world. So, as always, please send us any requests, any experiment that you want to see done, any topic that you want us to explore and talk about, et cetera, et cetera. A good email is email@example.com. And I hope you liked today’s episode. If you have any requests for future episodes, send us an email and stay tuned, stay shroomed. Check out our Instagram and our YouTube, and our shop and see some future events that we have in person. We have a lot cooking on the back burners, so please stay in our mycelial web and have fun. So thanks, everyone. We will see you next time and mush love.