Last weekend, I watched the documentary Fantastic Fungi about mushrooms. It had a lot of interesting facts including mushrooms being the fruit of the mycelium, an underground network of rootlike fibers that connect tree roots in communication, and can stretch for miles underground.
That vision of mushrooms was mind-expanding enough, as I’d not really thought about the vast mycelium “wood-wide web” beneath my feet in any of my forest walks!
But, it was a passing comment in the documentary that captured my attention. I heard something like:
We are all originally related to mushrooms. That seemed far-fetched – even to me!
So, I did a bit of research. What did I come up with?
Firstly, mushroom expert Paul Stamets (featured in the film as well) asserts that almost 50% of our DNA is the same as mushrooms, and that we even get the same kind of viruses they do. Okay….
Then, I found an article in Discover magazine about Mitchell Sogin’s research. Sogin is an evolutionary microbiologist who’s used “advanced automated DNA technology and computing power to trace the molecular evolution of dozens of today’s oldest known species—jellyfish, sea anemones, sponges, mollusks, starfish—back to their common point of origin.”
Sogin was basically doing DNA testing, like we do to find our ancestors on 23andme, comparing our DNA to non-human forms. At first, Sogin traced our roots back to sponges, who he identified as the earliest, most primitive multi-celled animal. That is surprising enough, but after more investigating, what did he find?
Sogin uncovered something older in the animal line than sponges: fungi. As he says: “Animals and sponges share a common evolutionary history from fungi.”
Next time I’m in the forest, perhaps I might think: Mother Mushroom, as I walk over our underground resting home, thank you for life.
“I see the mycelium as the Earth’s natural Internet, a consciousness with which we might be able to communicate. Through cross-species interfacing, we may one day exchange information with these sentient cellular networks..” … Paul Stamets