Mushrooms may talk to each other with 50 words or less

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Virginia Mayo

Different varieties of mushrooms grow at Le Champignon de Bruxelles urban farm.

A new study suggests that mushrooms can communicate with each other through the medium of electrical signals in which patterns lie ingrained.
Computer scientist Andrew Adamatzky from the University of the West of England observed and analyzed electrical activity from four species of fungi and found evidence of communication between fungi on the same network through spikes in electrical activity.
Underneath each mushroom is a hyphae, which are underground structures that are root-like and similar to the nerve cells in the human nervous system. When hyphae form a network, they can share information between fungi. This network is called mycelium.
“There’s a whole culture around mushrooms and they are definitely amazing architects of our natural world,” say CTV New Science and technology specialist, Dan Riskin. “They’ve got this huge underground network and every once in a while, they poke mushrooms up for reproduction. But most of the time, they stay hidden.”
Furthermore, the study has shown that the electrical signals generated by fungi can resemble a language. The spikes can be grouped in to “sentences and “words” and according to the recent finds, the fungi have a vocabulary of up to 50 “words.”
The complexity of the language varies between species of fungi. Research found that mushrooms with split gills have the most advanced communication and a superior vocabulary, while other species like caterpillar and enoki mushrooms have a less advanced vocabulary.
“There’s a big body of evidence that’s growing that these hyphae are sending some kinds of signals between individuals … communicating about where resources are, where the food is, and maybe having tripped-out mushroom-like conversations with each other too,” Riskin explained.
However, while the study indicated that these electrical signals are translated to “words,” Riskin said it’s “a giant step” to suggest that these signals are similar to the human language.
“I think most biologists are going to say that’s pushing it too far… But that said, that complexity probably does underlie real communication that’s happening among these organisms,” he said.
“It makes sense. They have the architecture to do it, and it would benefit them from a natural selection perspective. So, there’s certainly lots to decode here in terms of how these mushrooms and how these fungi are doing what they do.”