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New study suggests mushrooms may talk to each other with up to 50 ‘words’

By Tom Yun

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    TORONTO (CTV Network) — A new study has found that mushrooms may be able to communicate with each other through patterns in electrical signals.

Computer scientist Andrew Adamatzky from the University of the West of England analyzed electrical activity from four species of fungi and published his findings last Wednesday in the journal Royal Society Open Science. He found that spikes in electrical activity were used by fungi to communicate and transmit information to other fungi in their network.

“So, with this latest study, a computer scientist is sticking some electrodes into some mushrooms and asking, ‘What do the signals look like? And do the signals have any complexity to them?'” CTV News Science and Technology Specialist Dan Riskin told CTV News Channel on Sunday.

Underneath each mushroom lies hyphae, which are underground root-like structures that can be likened to nerve cells in the human nervous system. When hyphae form a network, called a mycelium, this can facilitate communication between fungi.

“There’s a whole culture around mushrooms and they are definitely amazing architects of our natural world,” Riskin said. “They’ve got this huge underground network and every once in a while, they poke mushrooms up for reproduction. But most of the time, they stay hidden.”

The study found that the spikes in the electrical signals generated by fungi can resemble a language. The spikes can be grouped in to “words” and “sentences,” and according to the study, these fungi can have a vocabulary of up to 50 “words.”

“There’s a big body of evidence that’s growing that these hyphae are sending some kinds of signals between individuals … communicating about where resources are, where the food is, and maybe having tripped-out mushroom-like conversations with each other too,” Riskin explained.

The complexity of the language varies between species of fungi. The study found that the split gill fungi could generate the most complex sentences with the largest vocabulary, while other species like the enoki fungi and caterpillar fungi had much smaller lexicons.

But while the study likens these fungal electrical signals to “words,” Riskin said it’s “a giant step” to suggest that fungi are using actual words to communicate with each other, similar to humans.

“I think most biologists are going to say that’s pushing it too far… But that said, that complexity probably does underlie real communication that’s happening among these organisms,” he said.

“It makes sense. They have the architecture to do it, and it would benefit them from a natural selection perspective. So, there’s certainly lots to decode here in terms of how these mushrooms and how these fungi are doing what they do.”

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Sonja Puzic

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