Feeling the filaments: Famous mycologist wows SOU crowd


The intricately filamented and connected network of mycelium under our feet looks just like the Internet or a big photograph of the universe and serves the same purpose, says famed mycologist Paul Stamets: to connect and nourish everything, to promote life and to communicate its wisdom to all parts.
Speaking to a packed crowd at Southern Oregon University’s popular Arbor Day festivities Wednesday, Stamets said mushrooms, fungi and their mycelial white threads are constantly eating and recycling forests, regenerating and enriching soils, supplying natural antibiotics, upholding biodiversity and making life possible.
Wearing a charming hat made from a big mushroom, Stamets said fungi cells are present in 90 percent of living organisms, including ourselves, and are only beginning to be understood by science, especially now, when their role in regenerating human-depleted soil is so critical.
Stamets noted the similarity in the functioning of humans and fungi, both of whom take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide. Like humans, they are aware of how others are doing, even if not in their immediate presence: if one mycelium is being attacked by aphids and puts out anti-aphid compounds, others nearby, but not connected, will do the same.
He saluted Oregon for having the largest known living organism on Earth, a honey fungus in the Blue Mountains measuring 2.4 miles across.
Mycelia were the first organism to invade the land from the primordial sea one billion years ago, he said, adding that one cubic inch of this “network-based organism” has over a mile of filament. When an asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs and three-fourths of species 66 million years ago, it was fungi that “leaped out of the ecosystem” to devour and regenerate new life.
Using the Olympic National Forest, near his home, as a laboratory, Stamets is pioneering many uses of mycorrhizal fungi, including fighting cancer and replacing septic tanks with mycofiltration — myco-substrates living on wood chips and devouring fecal coliform bacteria.
When his mother, with advanced breast cancer, was given weeks to live, Stamets put her on immune-boosting Turkey Tail mushrooms and, he said, to much applause, she’s still alive six years later. Similar success, he adds, is happening when Lion’s Mane mushrooms are used for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
“This could be a real game-changer,” said Stamets, the author of six mycological books. His mushrooms are marketed by his company, Fungi Perfecti.
Stamets detailed the use of Garden Giant mushrooms in reversing bee Colony Collapse Disorder and extending longevity of bees, noting that bees flew a trail from dawn to dusk to nibble at the fungi.
Stamets decried humanity’s “war on nature” but held back from taking credit for his discoveries, noting, “When you walk in respect for nature, scientific discoveries are bequeathed to you…It’s all hiding in plain sight. It’s time for a course change to help biodiversity and preserve our own species. The task we face today is to understand the language of nature.”

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