Why Do Some Mushrooms Glow In The Dark?

Photo: Wikipedia

Photo: Wikipedia

A new study by researchers at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine in Brazil has revealed that mushrooms emit light to attract insects, including beetles, flies, wasps, and ants. The research report was published in the Cell Press journal of Current Biology.

A team of researchers have found that fungi emit light to attract insects because they help to spread fungal spores around.

“It appears that fungi make light so they are noticed by insects who can help the fungus colonize new habitats,” said Cassius Stevani, PhD of Brazil’s Instituto de Química-Universidade de São Paulo. The circadian control of bioluminescence makes the process more efficient.

Neonothopanus gardneri is one of the biggest and brightest of bioluminescent mushrooms. It is also called “flor de coco” by locals in Brazil, where the mushroom can be found attached to leaves at the base of young palm trees in coconut forests. Researchers found that the mushrooms’ glow happens under the control of a temperature-compensated circadian clock. This level of control probably helps the mushrooms save energy by turning on the light only when it’s easy to see.

Researchers made sticky, fake mushrooms out of acrylic resin and lit some from the inside with green LED lights. Those pretend fungi were placed in the forest where the real bioluminescent mushrooms are found. Researchers observed that “the ones that were lit led many more staphilinid rove beetles, as well as flies, wasps, ants, and true bugs to get stuck than sticky dark mushrooms.”

According to Jay Dunlap, a geneticist and molecular biologist at Dartmouth College’s Geisel School of Medicine, they want to identify the genes responsible for the mushrooms’ bioluminescence and explore their interaction with the circadian clock that controls them.

Researchers are also using infrared cameras to watch the interaction between N. gardneri mushrooms and arthropods more closely. They believe that the findings are important in understanding how mushrooms are dispersed in the environment. That’s key because mushrooms such as N. gardneri play an important role in the forest ecosystem.

“Without them, cellulose would be stuck in its form, which would impact the whole carbon cycle on Earth,” Stevani said. “I dare to say that life on Earth depends on organisms like these.”

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Drew is a regular contributor covering trending topics.