Mushroom Revival Podcast

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episode 96: Fungipedia: Mushroom Stories from Lawrence Millman [transcript]


If you aren't convinced that fungi are omnipresent, bizarre, and mighty, you haven't read Fungipedia. Today we are featuring some of our favorite segments from this book and are joined by the author himself, Lawrence Millman. Lawrence has traveled far and wide on quests for information on the fungal kingdom. Sit back and enjoy some wow factor fun facts on fungi. 

Topics Covered:

  • Keratinophilic fungi - where they live and how they affect you
  • The Hair Ice Phenomenon from the fungus Exidiopsis effusa
  • Naturally occurring anti-freeze in various states of fungi
  • The mushroom culture in Greenland and other Arctic & Antarctic areas
  • Culturing mycelia from mummies
  • The Pharaoh's Curse - was it really fungi?
  • Finding the rare polypore Echinodontium ballouii, previously thought to be extinct
  • How a fungus helped the defeat of the South in the Civil War
  • The ban of Shiitake mushroom imports
  • Field mycology as a dwindling practice


Show Notes:

  • Buy Fungipedia: https://press.princeton.edu/books/hardcover/9780691194721/fungipedia
  • Lawrence Millman's Website: http://lawrencemillman.com/
  • Pyrithione Zinc soap for acne: https://www.amazon.com/Noble-Formula-Pyrithione-Zinc-Original/dp/B00G7TUDA0
  • Pyrithione Zinc soap for dandruff: https://www.amazon.com/Pyrithione-Shampoo-Butter-Grace-Peppermint/dp/B07KX2WYNQ
  • Horn Stalkball Photography: http://goweros.blogspot.com/2020/03/horn-stalkball.html
  • Science of Hair Ice: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HAoMURsb9lM&t=204s
  • Aspergillus & the Link the curse: http://www.antimicrobe.org/hisphoto/history/Aspergillus-Mummys%20curse.asp
  • Echinodontium ballouii: https://www.mycobank.org/page/Name%20details%20page/330283



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 2021-04-28  20m
 
 
00:00  Alex
You're listening to the
00:00
mushroom revival podcast.
00:12  Lera
What if we told you that
00:12
fungi were involved in an
00:15
ancient Egyptian curse
00:17  Alex
Or if fungi create a
00:17
natural anti-freeze
00:21  Lera
Or if fungi actually
00:21
helped dismantle slavery in the
00:25
United States?
00:31  Alex
So today on the show,
00:31
we've got a sample platter of
00:34
mushroom stories selected from
00:34
Lawrence Melvin's fungi nupedia.
00:39
This is a great episode to share
00:39
with your myco curious friends,
00:43
where we visit some of the
00:43
unlikely corners of fungal
00:46
existence. And what is spunk a
00:46
PDF? Well,
00:51  Lawrence
It's a miscellaneous
00:51
subtitle is a brief compendium
00:56
of mushroom lore. So I have
00:56
science information about fungal
01:01
sacks biographies of different
01:01
mycologist there are about 175
01:08
entries in the book I'll mention
01:08
to you I think edibility is the
01:12
least interesting aspect of any
01:12
mushroom.
01:15  Alex
So for first Vanga pedia
01:15
piece forget about us eating
01:20
fungi. What about fungi that eat
01:20
us.
01:25  Lera
There are some fungi
01:25
characterized as keratin Oh
01:28
files or keratin loving. They're
01:28
found in an order with that I
01:33
believe is pronounced ownage
01:33
analysis, which include fungi
01:36
that secrete a special enzyme
01:36
with the ability to digest
01:39
keratin proteins, which is found
01:39
on the outer layer of our skin.
01:45
So it's no surprise that we find
01:45
these species living on us.
01:49  Alex
But don't worry too much.
01:49
These fungi won't take over your
01:52
mind or eat you from the inside
01:52
out like cordyceps. In fact,
01:56
many if not all of you are
01:56
probably being snapped on by
01:59
these fungi right now. Common
01:59
occurrences like dandruff and
02:04
acne can be from a keratin of
02:04
file known as malice, ccja or
02:09
pittosporum. It's normal to have
02:09
these on your skin but it can
02:13
begin to express unwanted signs
02:13
as the fungus grows into the
02:17
pores not so common issues like
02:17
athlete's foot, ringworm, and
02:21
jock itch all come from keratin
02:21
files in a genus called dryco,
02:25
Fido.
02:26  Lera
Pro Tip since fungal acne
02:26
and dandruff is common, we
02:29
thought we'd shout out paratha
02:29
known zinc, a molecule that
02:32
supports healthy skin and is
02:32
recommended by dermatologists
02:35
for conditions related to these
02:35
fungi. More than that in our
02:38
show notes.
02:39  Alex
And for animal friends.
02:39
There is a species commonly
02:42
called horn stock ball that
02:42
feeds on rotting hooves and
02:46
horns. And this fungus will
02:46
actually fruit tiny little white
02:51
mushrooms all over it. Let me
02:51
tell you right now you have to
02:55
Google Image this one horn stock
02:55
ball. It's pretty metal.
03:00  Lera
To segue from skin and ho
03:00
ves. Our next piece is about h
03:04
ir. There is an unusual phenom
03:04
non known as hair ice where
03:07
ltra thin crystals of ice f
03:07
rm on the outside of dead bra
03:11
ches. The ice itself is not a f
03:11
ngus, but it doesn't need a liv
03:14
ng fungus for it to occur. S
03:14
on early winter morning
03:17
when the temperature is
03:17
ust below freezing, and if
03:20
he air is humid, and you're betw
03:20
en 45 and 55 degrees latitude, y
03:25
u may get lucky and find hair ey
03:25
s growing off of dead hardwood
03:29  Alex
This is another one you
03:29
have to look at pictures or
03:31
videos of this stuff. It looks
03:31
almost like silvery human hair,
03:36
it's the same thickness and can
03:36
actually grow up to 20
03:39
centimeters long when conditions
03:39
are just right a magical event
03:43
known as ice segregation occurs
03:43
when the water inside the wood
03:48
starts to freeze. But instead of
03:48
forming ice, the water becomes
03:52
super cool, thanks to some
03:52
interaction with molecules
03:55
inside of the wood. But ice does
03:55
form on the outside at the
03:59
opening. Think of this like the
03:59
hair follicle
04:02  Lera
And between these two
04:02
states of water so you've got
04:05
your frozen bits on the outside
04:05
and your supercooled water on
04:09
the inside. More ice will form
04:09
right at that interface and
04:13
continue to grow until all of
04:13
the water inside of the branch
04:17
is completely used up. One of
04:17
the reasons this only occurs in
04:20
hardwoods is due to their porous
04:20
structure known as Meadow Larry
04:24
rays.
04:25  Alex
The original thought was
04:25
that these formations were due
04:28
to gas pressure inside the
04:28
branch that forest out the
04:31
freezing water. That was proven
04:31
wrong in 2005 when scientists
04:35
showed that the fungus was the
04:35
key to these fine crystalline
04:39
structures. nearly a century
04:39
later, a German geophysicist by
04:44
the name of Alfred Wegener, who
04:44
was also a leading scientist in
04:48
continental drift suggested that
04:48
a fungus was involved.
04:51
Scientists proved this theory in
04:51
the 21st century by showing that
04:55
if you kill the fungus in the
04:55
branch, the hairs no longer
04:58
grow.
04:59  Lera
So why Is the fungus
04:59
actually doing? It's still not
05:03
totally clear, but it's likely
05:03
due to some special protein
05:06
secreted by the fungus known as
05:06
re crystaline inhibitors. These
05:10
are similar to the proteins
05:10
found in some animals that
05:12
prevent the water in their cells
05:12
from freezing. So it's basically
05:16
like a fungal antifreeze. And
05:16
when it's combined with water,
05:20
it gives it durability. That's
05:20
illustrated when we acknowledge
05:23
that the hair ice can stick
05:23
around for hours or even days
05:26
despite fluctuating
05:26
temperatures, whereas any other
05:29
normal fine ice crystals would
05:29
melt and recrystallized into
05:33
amorphous, uninteresting clumps.
05:35  Alex
hirise is found pretty up
05:35
there. So this occurs at 45 to
05:39
55 degrees latitude that's
05:39
northern US and Canada. But even
05:43
when we go higher near the
05:43
Arctic, fungi are still showing
05:47
up. And Lawrence Millman, who
05:47
has an affinity for the cold,
05:51
unlike myself, has spent lots of
05:51
time in the Arctic Region
05:55
looking for fungi. He has some
05:55
unique insight into the mushroom
05:58
culture in Greenland.
06:00  Lawrence
In East Greenland,
06:00
there is incredible phobia about
06:04
mushrooms, as they're called
06:04
Cuba SOPA. And Kubrick talk our
06:11
mountain hermits who can switch
06:11
their fingers and go flying
06:14
through the air which they do
06:14
they fly into a village grab
06:19
somebody and take that person
06:19
back out with him on the
06:23
premises or taken back dry him
06:23
even later. And because in the
06:29
farther north we're going late
06:29
in the season, mushrooms tend to
06:33
be slimy and slime is an anti
06:33
priests. So if you see a
06:37
November, slime on certain
06:37
mushrooms like coronaries and
06:41
celery cetera, it is to protect
06:41
the mushroom against freezing.
06:45
And in East Greenland, it gets
06:45
cold earlier than other places.
06:51
And there's a lot of signs. And
06:51
the mushroom is mushrooms are
06:55
called Kiva top soap bar. soap
06:55
is the word for soap. So it's
07:01
thought that this line is what
07:01
he keeps talking, use this to
07:06
Bay the width. And if a kipping
07:06
talk uses its obey with, you
07:10
certainly don't want to eat it,
07:10
nor do you want to have anything
07:14
to do with it. And that explains
07:14
why in East Greenland, there
07:19
tends to be a phobic attitude.
07:19
For mushrooms.
07:23  Alex
It's fascinating because
07:23
these are areas that most people
07:27
don't tend to look for
07:27
mushrooms, and I'm sure there's
07:32
a lot of species that are new to
07:32
science. We're finding species
07:37
in Antarctica that no one would
07:37
think to look people tend to
07:42
look you know, and forest and
07:42
rain forests and things like
07:45
that. But so I look in snow and
07:45
ice, you know, fungi are
07:48
extremophiles and they will pop
07:48
up on every nook and cranny of
07:54
this earth and to find out how
07:54
they're doing it is fascinating.
07:58
One of the
07:59  Lawrence
places that they're
07:59
popping up in Antarctica is in
08:04
all explorers huts. The mycelium
08:04
or the spore is remained in the
08:12
wood for and can remain in wood
08:12
for hundreds of years. drift
08:19
logs in the Arctic. People have
08:19
culture mycelium from drift logs
08:27
and mycelium is 600 years old.
08:27
Actually. Some people have found
08:32
mycelium and the mummies,
08:32
Egyptian mummies and of culture,
08:39
something that was 2000 years
08:39
old. Wow. So at any rate, as
08:44
there's a fellow in University
08:44
of Minnesota named Bob
08:47
planchette, who's done a lot of
08:47
work with explorers. Now there's
08:51
not a lot of wood in the Arctic,
08:51
or the Antarctic. But there is
08:55
brought in wood by explorers and
08:55
other people and the broad
09:00
Inwood scores and mycelium just
09:00
waiting and they can wait much
09:04
longer than we can to produce
09:04
fruiting bodies. And I think I
09:08
can't remember, he found how
09:08
many 40 or 50 different species
09:15
in the ward of Captain Scott's
09:15
height in Antarctica. They
09:21
haven't proved it yet, but they
09:21
could fruit with climate change.
09:25  Lera
So to expand on fungi
09:25
associated with ancient Egypt
09:28
our third piece from fungi pedia
09:28
features a mold genus
09:32
Aspergillus, these fungi like to
09:32
fruit in dry closed off
09:35
environments like barns and
09:35
sheds, and also Pharaohs tombs.
09:40
The spores of these fungi can
09:40
survive for a long time in the
09:43
environment, and when inhaled,
09:43
they can cause pulmonary issues
09:46
that results in future
09:46
complications.
09:48  Alex
Let's consider King Tut's
09:48
curse or Curse of the pharaohs.
09:53
Were legends say if you disturb
09:53
a mummy, especially a Pharaohs,
09:57
you be cursed with bad luck,
09:57
illness or you in depth in the
10:00
case of King Tut, who was said
10:00
to condemn anyone who disturbed
10:04
his tomb, at least 11 visitors
10:04
have reportedly died from this
10:08
curse, another mystery that
10:08
might be tied to fungi. Perhaps
10:12
these violators weren't cursed
10:12
by something paranormal but
10:16
rather sickened with Aspergillus
10:16
spores and mycotoxins, which
10:20
actually is a semi common cause
10:20
of death for archaeologists
10:24
opening old tombs Believe it or
10:24
not,
10:26  Lera
fungi change history, and
10:26
far last piece from fungi pedia
10:30
the possible role of fungi and
10:30
the South's defeat during the
10:33
Civil War. This section was
10:33
titled to train records because
10:36
of fungus neo lentinus le
10:36
piteous, a cousin of the
10:40
Chautauqua mushroom was found
10:40
feasting on wooden railroad ties
10:44
despite being treated with tar.
10:44
The faulty railroad ties
10:47
resulted in dozens of failed
10:47
attempts at sending trains to
10:51
support General Robert E. Lee, a
10:51
commander of the Confederate
10:54
States,
10:55  Alex
so shout out to Neil and
10:55
Titus for helping end slavery in
10:58
the US for making the world a
10:58
better place.
11:01  Lera
And another fun fact the
11:01
USDA actually banned imports of
11:04
chateaugay mushrooms since it
11:04
was a cousin of this so called a
11:07
train wreck or fungus until the
11:07
early 1970s, in fear that it
11:10
would erode more infrastructure,
11:13  Alex
and the mushrooms from
11:13
this fungi are actually edible,
11:15
just not if they've been growing
11:15
off railroad ties, which will
11:19
most likely have absorbed some
11:19
nasty chemicals and heavy metals
11:23
from the tar and surrounding
11:23
areas. You're actually better
11:26
off picking some chogha in a
11:26
pristine birch forest and going
11:29
on that train Chugga chugga choo
11:29
choo.
11:33  Lera
And all seriousness
11:33
Lawrence Millman has done a lot
11:35
more than just right fungi
11:35
pedia. He himself is a special
11:39
piece of the myco verse and has
11:39
had significant impact on
11:41
surveying fungi in urban and
11:41
remote environments. Stone a lot
11:45
of education regarding ethno
11:45
mycology and the consequences of
11:49
studying mycology in sterile
11:49
environments like
11:52  Alex
a lab. So in exploring all
11:52
these different places where
11:56
people normally don't look for
11:56
fungi and mushrooms, every once
12:01
in a while, you might stumble
12:01
upon a rare specimen like in
12:05
2005, he found a rare polypore
12:05
that hasn't been seen since
12:11
1909. Were you looking for it?
12:11
You know, do you have a list of
12:16
rare fungi that you're you're
12:16
looking for? Or just stumble
12:21
upon it in a rare circumstance?
12:23  Lawrence
No, no with respect to
12:23
that. Old Port is a kind of
12:27
donkey baluja II, it does not
12:27
have a common name. It grows
12:32
exclusively on old growth,
12:32
Atlantic white cedars. So what I
12:38
did, because I was very eager to
12:38
see if indeed it was still
12:42
extinct, was with friends, we
12:42
went to Atlantic white cedar
12:49
swamps, always in the winter,
12:49
because if you go in the summer,
12:53
the combination of muck and
12:53
mosquitoes will drive you away
12:57
very quickly, but in the winter,
12:57
it freezes. And you can walk in
13:01
on snowshoes, or crampons. So I
13:01
investigated a number of look
13:06
like white cedar swamps. The
13:06
problem with Atlantic white
13:09
cedars and this particular tree
13:09
is that for the longest time,
13:14
they were used in shipbuilding
13:14
and house building. And that
13:19
meant the it was very hard to
13:19
find old growth trees, as this
13:24
only grows on old growth
13:24
Atlantic wide cedars. And then I
13:28
had a revelation I went friend
13:28
of mines simultaneously had the
13:34
same revelation, let's find the
13:34
farthest inland Atlantic white
13:39
cedar swamp, because it would
13:39
have been much harder to
13:43
transport the wood to the coast,
13:43
from a place 125 miles inland
13:50
than right on the coast where I
13:50
would say a large proportion of
13:55
the swatches are. So we found
13:55
one that was about 125 miles in
14:02
length, I have been very
14:02
reserved about indicating
14:06
exactly where less people go and
14:06
take the remaining species away.
14:12
But anyway, we went there found
14:12
some old growth trees, and
14:16
indeed, they did have specimens
14:16
of a kind of dantian below Ei
14:23
on. Maybe we found 25 different
14:23
species. We kind of thought in
14:29
advance this group cap. So we
14:29
brought along a bottle of
14:33
whiskey to celebrate our
14:33
discovery. Having having founded
14:40
on a particular tree, what
14:40
happened was he saw a ruined and
14:45
looking fungus on one side of
14:45
the tree. And he said I'd bet
14:49
that's it certain I said oh,
14:49
it's impossible to tell. So we
14:52
went around opposite directions
14:52
and met in line and he beat me
14:59
Bye bye. 10 seconds saying,
14:59
Look, there it is out there. And
15:04
about a minute later, I was
15:04
unzipping my rucksack and
15:08
bringing out the bottle of
15:08
scotch. So we had found
15:12
something that was presumed to
15:12
be extinct. Wow, I've since I've
15:17
since worked in a lot of other
15:17
places for leather, and
15:22
including one swamp and trash
15:22
and big, big ol broke trees. And
15:27
I haven't found anywhere else.
15:29  Alex
Do you suspect that that's
15:29
the only patch of it in the
15:33
world left?
15:34  Lawrence
Yeah, Yes, I do. What
15:34
reason why I have stayed away
15:39
from universities in my pursuit
15:39
of mycology is that everyone
15:46
tends to be hemmed in, in
15:46
Foursquare laboratories. Their
15:52
field mycology is becoming
15:52
similar to the dodo and the
15:58
Labrador Doc, the three field
15:58
mycologist left in the UK, I'm
16:03
not sure how many are left here.
16:03
But myself, I can only manage
16:07
being indoors for a certain
16:07
period of time. And then I've
16:11
got to go afterwards. And among
16:11
other things to look for,
16:15  Lera
yeah, it's got to be a
16:15
balance. I mean, we have a lot
16:18
of amazing tools. and molecular
16:18
biology is extremely
16:21
illuminating, and instrumental
16:21
to developing some of our most
16:25
productive and important
16:25
products, medicines, whatever,
16:28
but there is some fidelity
16:28
there, if you just are steadily
16:31
taking the specimen into the
16:31
lab, and then you get to know it
16:35
in that setting. That's not
16:35
really where it lives. That's,
16:37
you know, it's like trying to
16:37
get to know as an animal outside
16:41
of its wild habitat, and you
16:41
just are going to miss out on a
16:44
lot of the really essential
16:44
behaviors,
16:47  Lawrence
or you're going to get
16:47
some non essential as long as
16:49
you sit in front of the cage of
16:49
an animal in the zoo, and start
16:53
documenting behavior. It's going
16:53
to be very, it's going to be
16:59
cooped up behavior rather than
16:59
behavior in the wild.
17:03  Alex
Right.
17:05  Lawrence
And, you know, the
17:05
other thing is, many mushrooms
17:08
are cultured in laboratories.
17:08
But the cultured mushroom has
17:14
differences from its wild
17:14
called. One thing it has
17:20
eventually will is that there
17:20
are certain chemicals of the
17:25
mushroom wild uses to fight off
17:25
bacteria that are no longer
17:30
needed when there are no
17:30
bacteria around. And a petri
17:34
dish is usually a bacteria leave
17:34
free environment. So you could
17:40
argue that what's being
17:40
cultured, is a different species
17:45
from its seemingly seemingly
17:45
same species. It's in the wild.
17:51  Lera
I think about this
17:51
frequently actually, and
17:53
especially when I follow a great
17:53
Facebook group called Algarve.
17:58
Asgard. And people just post
17:58
beautiful photos of their agar
18:01
plates. But it's interesting to
18:01
think that that fungus you
18:05
cultured never had this
18:05
restrictive two dimensional
18:09
landscape to grow on. And you
18:09
know, you often see really
18:13
interesting characteristics of
18:13
fungi, I have probably over 20
18:17
cultures and I could identify
18:17
the plate just by looking at the
18:20
mycelium. But is that what it
18:20
looks like in a law or whatever,
18:26
whatever substrate it has in the
18:26
in the natural world, like No
18:30
way. And it's interesting to see
18:30
some of these fungi express in
18:35
really intense rise and morphs
18:35
and grow in a perfectly radial
18:39
pattern. I mean, that would just
18:39
not happen in dog or wherever
18:44
you had found your your fungus.
18:44
So it is interesting how much
18:48
their genetic expression has to
18:48
change in order to thrive in
18:52
that environment. And I just
18:52
wonder how much we really lose
18:57
between those.
18:58  Lawrence
We lose a lot and and,
18:58
you know, john Muir said when
19:03
you study nature, you find
19:03
everything is hitched to
19:06
everything else. But when you
19:06
take something and remove it to
19:10
a petri dish, you cut off the
19:10
hitches, so to speak, and you've
19:15
simply got itself alone.
19:20  Lera
Special thanks to
19:20
Lawrence Millman for creating
19:22
fungi pedia. For more stories of
19:22
fungal lore, be sure to get a
19:26
copy of fungi pedia and check
19:26
out our show notes for more
19:28
extensive coverage on these
19:28
fungal factoids.
19:33  Alex
If you want to support the
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19:38
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19:41
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20:04  Lera
You can also support us
20:04
by rating or reviewing our show
20:07
and telling your friends
20:08  Alex
and as always, much love.
20:08
And may the spores be with you.