Monday, April 15

It turns out that mushrooms can talk, literally. And they communicate with 50 different words

I am not a person very given to taking sides. But if one day, while walking down the street, they put a cloth bag over my head, put me in a van and took me to an old abandoned industrial warehouse to (pointing a gun at me) ask me about the most undervalued thing in the Universe : my answer could only be one, mushrooms.

A box of mycological surprises. And not just because those boring and seemingly lonely things have already saved the world at least once; but because, in the specialized media, we spend hours talking about zoology, botany and microbiology; but the fungal world almost always remains in the background. And the truth is that it has really amazing things: now, for example, we have just discovered, that they talk to each other and in a way very similar to human beings.

Something very similar to human language. At least those are the conclusions of Andrew Adamatzky, a researcher at the Unconventional Computing Laboratory at the University of the West of England, Bristol after analyzing the patterns of electrical spikes generated by four different species of fungi.

That time mushrooms saved the world

a bit of context. Previous research had already suggested that fungi use hyphae (long subterranean threadlike structures) to transmit electrical impulses. The initial idea was that they should function in a similar way to nerve cells transmitting information in animal bodies.

However, some research had suggested that the information went further. It is well known that, for example, the electrical activity of the hyphae of fungi that feed on wood increases when these fungi encounter wood. As if they are warning each other that they have just stumbled upon a huge pantry filled to the brim.

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talk like mushrooms Pulling this thread, Adamatzky wanted to find out how that electrical activity worked (from an informational point of view). To do this, he inserted microelectrodes into the mycelia (clusters of hyphae) and analyzed what patterns he could find in them.

There are 7,000 different languages ​​in the world and all of them (those we have studied) are spoken at 39 bits per second

He found that these electrical spikes were often grouped into particular sequences of activity, resembling vocabularies of up to 50 words. In fact, he found that the distribution of these “fungal word lengths” closely matched that of human languages. This makes sense: as far as we know, natural languages ​​have very specific patterns that help us figure out if a language is real or not. It is logical to find similar patterns in fungi.

Looking for a Rossetta stone? And one more reason to suspect that this activity has “linguistic” content. Because, despite being very interesting, Adamatzky himself acknowledges that there is still a lot to work on. It is clear that none of this is random, but it will not be easy to “translate” them and check that they do mean something (and are not the product of other rhythmic or pulsating phenomena).

What this research does show is that even the most “characteristically” human traits have their echoes and modulations in the animal kingdom. Never has “understanding the language of life” been so literal.

Image | Hans Veth

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