Thursday 23 June 2022

Fungi may communicate using fifty ‘words’


Fungi are a sophisticated life form, whether mushrooms, moulds or yeasts. A new level of complexity has been detected through recent mycological research that expands upon our understanding as to how fungi communicate.


The research is based on computer analysis of the electrical signals fungi produce. The purpose of these electrical signals appears to function as a mechanism whereby fungi can communicate to each other.


Fungi conduct electrical impulses through hyphae (the long filamentous structures produce by moulds and mushrooms). To draw on an analogy, this is perhaps similar to how nerve cells transmit information in animals.


Earlier research has demonstrated that the firing rate of the electrical impulses increases in tensity when the hyphae of wood-digesting fungi contact with wooden. This opened up the scientific inquiry for fungi deploying an electrical “language” so they can share information about food or, perhaps, injury to other fungi when the hyphae of other fungi are connected.


This has led to the current research and the remarkable finding that the identified patterns possess some structural similarity to human speech.


This possibility has been raised by Professor Andrew Adamatzky from the University of the West of England. Adamatzky analysed the patterns of electrical spikes generated by four species of macroscopic fungi:


·         Enoki (also known as velvet shank, this is a species of edible mushroom in the family Physalacriaceae).

·         Split gill (fungus in the genus Schizophyllum. The mushroom resembles undulating waves of tightly packed corals or loose Chinese fan).

·         Ghost (Omphalotus nidiformis. Ghost fungi often grow en masse in large overlapping clusters around the bases of both living and dead trees).

·         Caterpillar fungi (Ophiocordyceps sinensis, this is a fungus that grows on insects).


Adamatzky undertook his research by inserting tiny microelectrodes into the fungal mycelia (the vegetative part of a fungus, consisting of a network of fine white filaments). Many fungi will combine to form mycelia.


The electrical spikes foreach of the four fungi can be classified as different sets of activity, patterns similar to vocabularies representing 50 sets if information (analogous to 50 different words). It also appears that the distribution of the “fungal word lengths” has a level of similarity with human languages.


Often the electrical signals are used in combination, creating a sentence like form of communication. Of the different the Split gills (often found on decaying wood) produces the most complex “sentences”.


The purpose is with survival of a mass of fungi, signalling the presence of attractants (such as a food source) and repellants (something that might cause the fungi harm).


Speaking with The Guardian, Adamatzky says: “We do not know if there is a direct relationship between spiking patterns in fungi and human speech. Possibly not…On the other hand, there are many similarities in information processing in living substrates of different classes, families and species. I was just curious to compare.”


Certainly the electrical spikes do not appear to be random and there are rhythmic patterns, and they have some kind of purpose. Further research will either confirm or refute the findings and explore whether there is indeed a fungal language.


The research appears in the journal Royal Society Open Science. The research paper is titled “Language of fungi derived from their electrical spiking activity.”


Posted by Dr. Tim Sandle, Pharmaceutical Microbiology Resources (

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