Mushrooms may ‘talk’ to one another with up to 50 words

Schizophyllum commune fungi growing on wood

Those unassuming fungi underfoot might be chatting with one another using pulses of electricity. Researchers inserted tiny electrodes into patches of growing fungi and recorded the electrical activity exchanged between the organisms by nutrient-absorbing structures called hyphae, The Guardian reports. The electrical pulses passed between mushrooms clustered in patterns that resembled up to 50 words, the team writes this week in Royal Society Open Science. Although the researchers posit the “language” could be used to share info about injury or food availability with distant parts of themselves, they also tell The Guardian the pulses could be meaningless.

Buried in forest litter or sprouting from trees, fungi might give the impression of being silent and relatively self-contained organisms, but a new study suggests they may be champignon communicators.

Mathematical analysis of the electrical signals fungi seemingly send to one another has identified patterns that bear a 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.

It has even shown that the firing rate of these impulses increases when the hyphae of wood-digesting fungi come into contact with wooden blocks, raising the possibility that fungi use this electrical “language” to share information about food or injury with distant parts of themselves, or with hyphae-connected partners such as trees.

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