(ORDO NEWS) — Buried in the forest floor or sprouting from trees, fungi can appear to be silent and relatively introverted organisms, but a new study shows they could be champignon communicators.
Mathematical analysis of the electrical signals that mushrooms seem to send to each other has revealed patterns that bear a striking structural resemblance to human speech.
Previous research has shown that fungi conduct electrical impulses through long underground filamentous structures called hyphae, similar to how nerve cells transmit information in humans.
It has even been shown that the rate of propagation of these impulses increases when the hyphae of wood-destroying fungi come into contact with wooden bars, suggesting that fungi use this electrical “language” to communicate information about food or damage with distant parts of themselves or with partners. connected hyphae such as trees.
But do these electrical signals have anything to do with human language?
For the study, Professor Andrew Adamacki of the Unconventional Computing Lab at the University of the West of England in Bristol analyzed the nature of the electrical spikes generated by four species of fungus – enoki, forked gill, ghost and caterpillar fungus.
To do this, he inserted tiny microelectrodes into substrates colonized by their mycelium, which consisted of many hyphae filaments.
“We don’t know if there is a direct link between mushroom spikes and human speech. Maybe not,” Adamacki said. “On the other hand, there are many similarities in information processing in living substrates of different classes, families and species. I was just curious to compare.”
A study published in the journal Royal Society Open Science found that these spikes often cluster into activity chains resembling dictionaries of up to 50 words, and that the distribution of these “mushroom word lengths” closely matches human languages.
Flattened gills – growing on decaying wood, whose fruiting bodies resemble the undulating waves of densely packed corals – generated the most complex “sentences” of all.
The most likely reasons for these waves of electrical activity are to maintain the integrity of the fungus – similar to the howling of wolves to maintain the integrity of the pack – or to communicate newly discovered sources of attractants and repellents to other parts of the mycelium, Adamtsky suggested.
“There is another option – they don’t say anything,” he said. “The proliferating mycelium tips are electrically charged, and so when the charged tips pass through a pair of differential electrodes, a spike in potential difference is recorded.”
Whatever these “bursts” are, they don’t look random, he added.
However, other scholars would like to see more evidence before they are ready to accept it as a form of language. Other types of pulsatile behavior have been previously documented in fungal webs, such as pulsatile nutrient transport – possibly caused by the rhythmic growth of fungi in search of food.
“This new work reveals rhythmic patterns in electrical signals similar in frequency to the nutrient pulses we found,” said Dan Bebber, assistant professor of biological sciences at the University of Exeter and member of the British Mycological Society’s Fungal Biology Research Committee.
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