Buried in forest litter or growing on trees, fungi may appear to be quiet, relatively self-sufficient organisms, but a new study suggests they could be fungal communicators.
Mathematical analysis of the electrical signals the fungi apparently send to each other has identified patterns that bear striking structural similarity to human speech.
Previous research has suggested that fungi conduct electrical impulses through long underground filamentous structures called hyphae – similar to how nerve cells transmit information in humans.
He even showed that the firing rate of these pulses increases when the hyphae of wood-digesting fungi come into contact with blocks of wood, raising the possibility that the fungi use this electrical “language” to share information about the food or wounds with parts distant from themselves. , or with hyphal-related partners such as trees.
But do these trains of electrical activity have anything in common with human language?
To investigate, Professor Andrew Adamatzky from the Unconventional Computing Laboratory at the University of the West of England in Bristol analyzed patterns of electrical spikes generated by four species of mushrooms – enoki, split mushrooms, ghosts and caterpillars. .
He did this by inserting tiny microelectrodes into substrates colonized by their patchwork of threads of hyphae, their mycelia.
“We don’t know if there is a direct relationship between spike patterns in fungi and human speech. Maybe not,” Adamatzky said. “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.
The research, published in Royal Society Open Sciencefound that these spikes often clustered in trains of activity, resembling vocabularies of up to 50 words, and that the distribution of these “fungal word lengths” closely matched those of human languages.
The split gills – which grow on rotting wood and whose fruiting bodies look like undulating waves of tightly packed corals – have generated the most complex “sentences” of all.
The most likely reasons for these surges of electrical activity are to maintain the integrity of fungi—analogous to howling wolves to maintain pack integrity—or to signal newly discovered sources of attractants and repellents to humans. other parts of their mycelium, suggested Adamtzky.
“There is also another option – they don’t say anything,” he said. “Spreading mycelium tips are electrically charged and therefore when the charged tips pass through a pair of differential electrodes a potential difference spike is recorded.”
Whatever these “spike events” represent, they don’t appear to be random, he added.
Even so, other scientists would like to see more evidence before they want to accept it as a form of language. Other types of pulsating behavior have already been recorded in fungal networks, such as pulsating nutrient transport – possibly caused by rhythmic growth as fungi search for food.
“This new paper detects rhythmic patterns in electrical signals, similar in frequency to the nutrient pulses we found,” said Dan Bebber, associate professor of biosciences at the University of Exeter and member of the committee of British Mycological Society Fungal Biology Research. .
“While interesting, interpretation as a language seems somewhat over-enthusiastic and would require much more research and critical hypothesis testing before we see ‘Fungus’ on Google Translate.”