Scientists discovered the glowing mushrooms, employed by locals as natural torches. Of about 120,000 described fungi species, only around 100 are known to be bioluminescent or capable of emitting light.
Before we understand more about the rare mushrooms, let’s first take a glance at the story behind these magnificent and exotic species.
The story behind the discovery
During the monsoon, a team of scientists from India and China began a fungal foray in Assam. Over the course of fortnight , they were amazed by the vast diversity of fungi within the region: many species of fungi were spotted, a number of which were new science.
After hearing reports from locals of “electric mushrooms”, they headed to West Jaintia Hills District in Meghalaya. it had been a drizzly night and an area person guided the team to a bamboo forest, which is a component of a community forest, and asked them to modify off their torches.
A minute later, the group was awestruck by what they saw: within the midst of the darkness an eerie green glow emerged from dead bamboo sticks that were smothered in tiny mushrooms. The fungus emits its own light – a phenomenon referred to as bioluminescence.
One among the world’s 97 glowing species
The new species — named Roridomyces phyllostachydis — was first sighted on a wet August night near a stream in Meghalaya’s Mawlynnong in East Khasi Hills district and later at Krang Shuri in West Jaintia Hills district. it’s now one of the 97 known species of bioluminescent fungi within the world.
Interestingly, local residents used the glowing bamboo sticks as natural torches to navigate the forest in the dark . Steve Axford, a fungal photographer who accompanied the team, found out alittle studio and took photos.
Why do fungi glow?
A 2015 study showed that bioluminescence in Neonothopanus gardneri, a large, bright mushroom that grows at the bottom of young palm trees in Brazilian coconut forests, is under the control of a circadian clock. The activity of the enzymes involved in producing light peaks in the dark and this regulation implies that the lights serve a purpose
Mycologists are perplexed on why fungi glow because the method consumes energy. Different species may glow for various reasons counting on the a part of the fungus that glows and a few of hypotheses are postulated for the ecological role of light: it might be wont to attract insects for spore dispersal or to discourage frugivorous animals from consuming them. The study on N. gardneri provided evidence of the previous .
Researchers built sticky artificial mushrooms made from acrylic and fitted them with LED lights inside that emitted a green light equivalent in intensity to N. gardneri. These mimics were then placed within the forest where the important ones are found alongside those without LED lights.
The experiment revealed that more insects like rove beetles, flies, wasps, and ants were stuck to the lit mushrooms than the dark ones in the dark . Fungi need help to colonise new substrates and in some cases, the wind can carry and distribute spores. But at rock bottom of the forest canopy where N. gardneri is found, winds are generally scarce. The insects during this experiment are capable of dispersing spores and therefore the scientists believe this might be one among the explanations why fungi glow.
Still, it’s not known whether the insects aid the mushroom in dispersing its spores and tons more research is
The creation of glowing plants
Scientists have identified four enzymes involved in the fungal bioluminescent pathway: luciferase that catalyzes the oxidation of the compound luciferin, which results in the emission of light, and three other enzymes that are involved in the biosynthesis of luciferin. This pathway could be co-opted in various applications such as in biomedicine, bioengineering and to develop environmental biosensors.
The fungal bioluminescence system could be integrated into plants because the biochemical reactions in some mushrooms are similar to those that naturally occur in plants. In April, a team reported creating engineered tobacco plants with the fungal bioluminescent system and they continuously emitted their own self-sustained light. The plants were also brighter than those created previously using a bacterial luminescence system.
“We did not expect that the experience of seeing the glow in the full-grown plant with the naked eye would be so magical,” said Karen Sarkisyan of the London Institute of Medical Sciences and senior author of the paper in a statement. These findings could pave the way for real-time monitoring of processes in plants and also the development of glowing plants for various uses such as in organic architecture and street lighting.
source :- india mongbay and indiatimes