The largest living creature on this planet is a mushroom, and scientists are seeking to understand why

Armillaria ostoyae, commonly known as “honey fungus,” is a virulent root pathogen of pine trees and other woody species (Image source: Myron Smith)

With a length of 30 meters and a weight of up to 180 tons, The blue whale is the largest animal known to live on Earth. However, it pales next to what is considered the largest recorded organism: a specimen of The fungus Armillaria ostoyae, which inhabits the Malheur National Forest in the Blue Mountains in Oregon, USA, occupies an area of ​​965 hectares., equivalent to 1,350 football fields. Or one-twentieth of the roof of Buenos Aires.

Amazing mushroom, generally known as The “honey fungus” is a virulent pathogen of pine roots and other woody species that feed on both living and decomposing matter..

Scientists estimate that You are at least 2,400 years old (He could have seen Socrates die!), but that could exceed 8,600. According to Guinness World Records, It weighs between 6800 and 31750 tons, which means that up to two hundred blue whales must be summed to equal the scale.

It was discovered about two decades ago by Scientists from the United States Forest Service It was published in 2003 in the magazine Canadian Journal of Forest Research, with an unattractive title: “Thick-scale Populations of Armillaria Species in the Mixed Coniferous Forests of the Blue Mountains of Northeastern Oregon.” As is often the case in science, wonders have been revealed with sobriety and meticulous text.

To confirm it was the same as an armillaria organism or a clonal colony, the scientists took more than 100 samples and performed DNA analysis (Photo: WikiCommons)
To confirm it was the same as an armillaria organism or a clonal colony, the scientists took more than 100 samples and performed DNA analysis (Photo: WikiCommons)

And although fake photos of a large hat about 7 or 8 meters high have spread in social networks, surrounded by Lilliputian-like tourists or defiantly erected in the middle of the logs, in fact they are more secretive. In fact, Almost the entire organism extends underground, exhibiting an intricate network of filamentous, rope-like structures called rhizomes or fungal chordates. They look like a root.

Only a few times of the year do mushrooms or fruit bodies appear from this invisible giant., with a rather sweet taste, chewy texture and very suitable for giving a special touch to soups and pasta, culinary experts swear by.

To confirm that it is the same organism or a clonal colony armillariaAnd Scientists took more than 100 samples and performed DNA analysis. In the study, they also found and distinguished other creatures of the same species with more modest extensions: 20, 95, 195 and 260 hectares. Although in fact scientists assume that many of them barely protrude within the radius of a few trees. Most of them live only a few years.

For some reason scientists are interested, Oregon’s nearly 1,000-acre body managed to combine ambition, greed, and survival, almost like the epic of innate beings described by H.P. Lovecraft in his novel”Who whispers in the dark“As” members of the race are scattered throughout the universe (…) with a unique ability to cross the interstellar void devoid of air and heat, and to maintain physical form. “

Bando An interconnected system of genetically identical poplars In the United States, it surpasses the colossal armillaria in terms of weight, but not in size: It occupies an area of ​​only 43 hectares.

Pando has 47,000 genetically identical stems that grow out of a network of interconnected roots (Photo: Lance Oditt/Friends of Pando)
Pando has 47,000 genetically identical stems that grow out of a network of interconnected roots (Photo: Lance Oditt/Friends of Pando)

Two sides of mushrooms

Armillaria ostoyae It is just one of about 40 species of armillaria or honeysuckle fungi that have been identified worldwide that play a major role in so-called woody ecosystems..

According to specialists, the success of the genus in terms of species diversity and geographical distribution can be attributed to a number of factors, including High adaptability to changing environments and their various strategies for obtaining and scattering food.

However, from a human point of view, the environmental success of Armillaria has both positive and negative sides, as if Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

by decomposition of wood, Armillaria contributes to carbon recycling and minerals in forest ecosystems. Selective killing of trees helps replace individuals or even species, favoring biodiversity and regeneration. But at the same time, its parasitic activity is a major concern in synthetic or semi-synthetic ecosystems, including farms for timber production, orchards, vineyards, parks and gardens,” Swiss, French and Canadian authors wrote in a 2019 review article in Canadian Journal of Plant Pathology. The same reasons why species are so successful explain how difficult it is to control them.

Image copyright Myron Smith Scientist Myron Smith with colleagues James Anderson and Johann Braun on a huge Armillaria gallica mushroom they discovered in the Michigan forest
Image copyright Myron Smith Scientist Myron Smith with colleagues James Anderson and Johann Braun on a huge Armillaria gallica mushroom they discovered in the Michigan forest

NS Myron Smith, Professor in the Department of Biology at Carleton University, Ottawa, CanadaOverall, “Armillaria species represent a natural and positive force in the forest ecosystem.”They work by weakening dry and diseased trees and decomposing and recycling nutrients in the forest.e,” he said In an interview with Infobae.

Smith is an expert on giant mushrooms. Nearly 30 years ago, he was part of the team that discovered the huge mycelium of Armillaria Gallica Which, at the time, they calculated to be 37 hectares in size, weigh 100 tons, and was 1,500 years old. They failed. A new analysis in 2018 actually revealed that It covers an area of ​​75 hectares, weighs 400 tons and is 2,500 years old.

How can a single mushroom grow and live so long? Bernardo Lechner, Researcher at CONICET and Director of the Institute of Mycology and Botany (INMIBO)D., who works at UBA’s School of Exact and Natural Sciences, in Buenos Aires, risks the first explanation: “It’s a plant-pathogenic fungus, which obviously found an ideal environment in the forest, and it came to a balance with the trees there.”

Smith agreed with and contributed to other elements: “The key factor is the existence of a stable forest ecosystem: Mushrooms will not live without the forest for thousands of years. The second factor is The remarkable ability of these fungi to maintain genetic stability Over a long period of time, perhaps several thousand years. In the case of Armillaria gallica, our genetic analysis indicates that it has a very low mutation rate, but we don’t know how that happens,” he told Infobae.

A massive Armillaria gallica has been discovered in Michigan.  United States of America.  It covers an area of ​​75 hectares, weighs 400 tons and is 2,500 years old
A massive Armillaria gallica has been discovered in Michigan. United States of America. It covers an area of ​​75 hectares, weighs 400 tons and is 2,500 years old

An additional secret of Armillaria will be the high ability to adapt and overcome adverse situations., which can also be defined in human terms as Flexibility. Smith said the large, long-lived fungi he found occupy low, moist areas of closed forests and upland, dry land.

It has withstood logging and small road construction over the years. Actively looking for wood to use for food They can grow from large tree trunks that they occupy to search for new sources of food. In this way it can withstand periods of shortage. What is more, Can survive on all kinds of organic plant matter By utilizing an impressive array of enzymes they produce,” he said.

Other scientists are looking for clues in the structure and Strange formation of roots of Armillaria ostoyae, making them extremely difficult to destroy, according to a recent study that also included mechanical engineers from the University of Utah in the United States.

Some also consider it an opportunity to highlight the most forgotten kingdoms of nature.

Doug Bernd, author of Mycotopia Search.  Citizen science, mushroom fanatics and the untapped potential of mushrooms
Doug Bernd, author of Mycotopia Search. Citizens learned, mushroom fanatics and the untapped potential of mushrooms” he told Infobae: ‘I think the famous mega mushroom is really amazing’ (Credits: Doug Beerend)

“I think the famous giant mushroom is really amazing, but it’s hard to say it’s more amazing than any other. It’s certainly much larger than anything else we know so far, but I am in awe of the little fungi that live inside plant cells, or that require fire to reproduce. , or that convert sunlight into vitamin D just as you do. our skin,” American writer and journalist Doug Bernd told Infobae, book author”Look for mycotopia. Citizen science, mushroom fanatics, and the untapped potential of mushroomsIt was published this year.

My feeling is that mushrooms help us realize that all life is worth admiringBeerend concluded.

Read on:

Fungi: Scientists’ Debate About Ancient Organisms Necessary for Life
The most amazing giant living creature on Earth is thousands of years old and is in danger of disappearing
Whales eat a lot more than previously thought and this is essential for the ecosystem

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