A nematode pierces the cell walls of a mushroom’s hyphae to feed on them.Credit By Markus Künzler
A mushroom species was found to sense predators and sent warning signals to other parts of its body, but how it does that remains a mystery.
It’s known as fight or flight — the message the brain sends your body when it detects something frightening. Something like it happens to plants when they are under attack, too. And then there are fungi — perhaps the most mysterious kingdom of multicellular life.
Fungi too can sense attackers and manufacture powerful weapons to combat them, including the toxins and poisons that can send you to the emergency room if you eat the wrong mushroom.
But little is known about the built-in threat detectors of these limbless, brainless beings. Humans send messages through their nervous systems. A plant’s vascular system is its relay apparatus. But fungi have neither.
Scientists trying to solve this mystery recently grew mushrooms in the lab, unleashed fungi-eating nematodes on them and videotaped the aftermath. They found that the fungi somehow sensed the predators and sent signals to other parts of their bodies. Their findings, published recently in Current Biology, shed new light on how the many cells within even primitive organisms communicate like plants or animals.
“They may appear simple, but they share features that are also known for more complicated organisms,” said Markus Künzler, a microbiologist at ETH Zürich in Switzerland who led the study. “There is internal communication going on that we know very little about.”