The glowing mushroom kept scientists guessing for a long time, but a team o researchers announced they solved the mystery and revealed the the real reason why some fungi have this property.
The secret behind mushrooms’ ability to glow in the dark has baffled scientists for decades. There are mushroom species that are glowing, while one of them sprouts on coconut forests in Brazil near the decaying leaves from the trees.
The scientists carefully researched the yellow mushroom called “flor de coco” – coconut flower. They observed that the fungus attracts creatures, mostly insects, with the use of its nighttime luminescence. When the mushroom is mature, its pores are spread throughout the forest.
“The answer appears to be that fungi make light so they are seen by insects who can help the fungus colonize new habitats”, said biochemist Cassius Stevani from Brazil’s Instituto de Quimica-Universidade de Sao Paulo. The question he answered dates back to the time of Greek philosopher Aristotle.
Jay Dunlap, geneticist and molecular biologist from Dartmouth College’s Geisel School of Medicine further spoke about the concept of bioluminescence. This characteristic is and has been present over time in different life forms such as bacteria, fungi fishes and insects. “Most of these make light in their own way, that is, with biochemistry that is unique to each organism,” said Dunlap.
In the world there are 71 known bioluminescent fungus out of the 100,000 discovered species of fungi. The scientists chose to observe the Flor de coco because it is the largest and the brightest known mushroom. After studying the body fungus, they found that it works with a circadian clock that allows it to glow only at nighttime.
They carried out the study by using two mushroom replicas – one without light and one with LED light. The researchers placed them in the forest, near the real mushrooms, and applied glue on the fake fungi to find out if it did attract insects.
The LED lighted mushroom caught several types of insects, while the other hasn’t. On the artificially lighter mushroom, the scientists found flies, cockroaches, ants, spiders, beetles, slugs, snails and centipedes.
The real mushroom has sticky pores, that are taken away by insects and other creatures far from the site, making the spreading of the species possible.
The light is just a bait for insects, while the mushrooms use this characteristic to boost their numbers.
Image Source: Mycotopia