How I learned to think like a mushroom

We need fungal solutions to pollution, pandemics, and starvation, says Tradd Cotter, a microbiologist and professional mycologist.

I have been studying mushrooms, inside and out, macroscopically and microscopically, for the past 22 years. At times I imagine myself deep into their chemical consciousness to figure out what they are thinking and what they are experiencing. Why? To gain a higher understanding of their individual needs on a species by species basis. I know this sounds strange, and, trust me, on occasion I look in the mirror for signs of gills emerging from my neck or a Cordyceps mushroom sprouting from the back of my head like a possessed ant, as I near the final stages of my personalized mushroom infection.

Now, you don’t need to go to these extremes to be a good mushroom grower. But, who wants to be good? Greatness is committing one step higher and at a level that can make the impossible a reality. That’s what I attempt to teach folks in my new book, Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation: Simple to Advanced Techniques for Indoor and Outdoor Cultivation.

Fungi, with their branching fungal filaments called hyphae (collectively called mycelium), are constantly sampling their environment’s chemical properties, using specialized cell tips that can read the composition of a substance like a laboratory liquid chromatographer. These rapid tests signals the mycelium to adjust its internal assembly lines, shifting genetic expression, to manufacture whatever it needs to overcome, or succeed in this newly sampled environment, or in many instances, when it encounters a competitor or pathogen competing with its territory. This interface environment is where the magic happens, and this is where I try to place myself—deep into the matrix to gain a better understanding of these interactions between fungi and their immediate environments.

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