Mycelia: Fungi's Underground Infrastructure

Edited by Kylieeleanne, Sharingknowledge, Jamie (ScienceAid Editor), SmartyPants

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Mycelium

Most everyone knows what fungi look like, they are the mushrooms growing on logs in the forest, and the fuzzy spots that appear on week old bread; even tomatoes and other veggies eventually succumb to fungi. Most people recognize fungi but, few people know that what they see when they look at a mushroom, is just the fruiting body. Beyond the fruiting body, most often times underground, there is an incredibly intricate infrastructure called Mycelium. This mycelium provides the fruiting body with nourishment, it helps plants growing around it to flourish, it is one of the biggest contributors to the decomposition of organic matter, and they are the next frontier when it comes to environmentally friendly materials and packaging. Mycelium is a part of the everyday life and death cycles happening all around us.

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    Mycelium is the vegetative part of a fungus, it consists of a mass of thread or root-like hyphae, sometimes referred to as Shiro
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    The mycelium is what connects a mushroom to another, creating an underground network.
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  2. 2
    A single spore will germinate into what is called a Homokaryotic mycelium, which cannot sexually reproduce on its own
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  3. 3
    Two compatible Homokaryotic mycelia can join to form a Dikaryotic mycelium
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    Which is able to produce a fruiting body such as a mushroom, but only if the conditions are favorable, too wet or too dry, even a few degrees temperature variance can eradicate the possibility of a mushroom ever forming.
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  4. 4
    Premature formations of mycelium can be observed in several instances of everyday life like on a moldy loaf of bread or when a tomato has begun to rot
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    Mycelia Fungis Underground Infrastructure 96927.jpg
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  5. 5
    These networks of mycelia can be so incredibly small that they are undetectable by the human eye or, they can span for miles
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    A site in eastern Oregon once had a massive growth of mycelium that spanned 970 hectares, it was estimated that the growth which spanned 1,665 football fields was roughly 2,200 years old.
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    When mycelium grows to such massive proportions, it is most times referred to as a mycelial mat but is sometimes referred to as Sclerotia
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    The mycelia's ability to expand into such an unbelievably large mass is due in part to its rigid cell structure, which allows it to move and grow through soil or other environments that require extra protection.
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  9. 9
    The hundreds of hyphae which make up a mycelium are crucial to a fungi's ability to absorb nutrients from its environment, they work like long arms that reach out searching for water and other nutrients
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  10. 10
    The absorption of nutrients is a two stage process, first, the hyphae secrete an enzyme onto the food source which breaks down its biological polymers into smaller, more manageable units such as monomers
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    The second part of the process is the absorption of the monomers by facilitated diffusion and active transport
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  12. 12
    The secretion of enzymes by the mycelia is not only beneficial to the fungi, it plays a huge role in the decomposition of organic plant material, which is vital in both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems
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  13. 13
    Since the fungi decompose organic matter, it looks at typical organic based soil contaminants such as petroleum products and certain pesticides (which are both built on a carbon structure) as prime carbon sources
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    This means that fungi have the potential to eradicate such pollutants from their environment by utilizing them as food unless the chemical proves toxic to the fungi.
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  14. 14
    Mycelial mats have even been suggested as having the potential to be used as biofilters, to remove microorganisms and chemicals from soil and water
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    This method of filtration has been coined' myco-filtration. This biological degradation is a process known as bioremediation.
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    Myco-filtration is just one of the many enviro-positive applications that mycelia can be used for, the observed relationship between Mycorrhizal fungi and plants could lead to technology improving farmers crop yields
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    It could also be spread onto logging roads, to hold new soil in place preventing washouts until newly transplanted woody plants can gain their roots.
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    Another cool scientific find is Ectomycorrhizal extrametrical mycelia and Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi can actually greatly increase the efficiency of water and nutrient absorption of most plants
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    Although not everyone is familiar with mycelia, scientific advancements in the field of study surrounding them can lead to significant leaps in the manufacturing of more environmentally friendly packaging, that everyone uses
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    The number of companies producing such packaging could one day be in the thousands, but they are nothing new; Since 2007 a company called 'Ecovative Design' has been growing mycelium in agricultural waste, to produce alternatives to polystyrene and plastic.
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  19. 19
    The agricultural waste along with the mycelia is placed into a mold and left for 3­-5 days to grow itself into a durable material
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    Depending on the type of mycelia used these materials can vary greatly in durability.
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  20. 20
    They can even produce materials that are dielectric, water absorbent or, flame retardant
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    Mycelium also has its own special spot in the food world
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    Like a mycelial mat, certain strains can produce masses that often resemble a ball. These masses are actually considered a delicacy in France, Spain, and several other countries, they are most often referred to as a truffle.
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  22. 22
    "Mycelium" like "fungus" can be considered a mass noun, meaning the word can either be singular or plural
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    The term "Mycelia" though, like "fungi" is preferred as the plural.
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Mycelia: Fungi's Underground Infrastructure. (2017). In ScienceAid. Retrieved Jul 22, 2017, from https://scienceaid.net/Mycelia_Fungis_Underground_Infrastructure

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Recent edits by: Jamie (ScienceAid Editor), Sharingknowledge, Kylieeleanne

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