Mushrooms Are Weird (And Glowing Mushrooms Are Weirder)

We've known how weird mushrooms are for a long time. How weird? Well, for starters we know they grow towards sunlight, but now what they use sunlight for...oh, and earth used to be covered in giant mushrooms. But, one thing is coming out of the shadows recently: why and how some mushrooms glow.

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The process of process of fungal bioluminescence seems a But, a new article in the Science Advances Journal that is shedding new light on this phenomena. The team behind the Science Advances article on the subject was made up of an international team of researchers. These researchers analyzed extracts from two different glowing mushrooms, first, Brazil's Neonothopanus gardneri and then Vietnam's poisonous Neonothopanus nambi.

The authors note “Future work on the isolation, characterization, and heterologous expression of the luciferase will stimulate the development of fungal bioluminescence–inspired applications,” which could help with projects like draining streetlights, litmus tests for toxins, and even candy!

The first thing they discovered is that the bioluminescence of mushrooms is similar to the enzymes found in other bioluminescent animals. These two enzymes, luciferin and luciferase, combine with energy and oxygen. Once this happens, a chemical reaction happens and the compound oxyluciferin is created. This is an excited state and is not really sustainable for long, so it releases its energy in the form of light.

However, the mushrooms were doing one thing a little differently: although they were using the two enzymes, they ended up creating their own proprietary blend similar to excited oxyluciferin.

And here's where the fungi gets a little sexy, according to the scientists this proprietary blend is "promiscuous". What this means, in fungi terms, is that it can mix and mingle with multiple types of luciferin. And it is this specific approach that allows the bioluminescence to be more than green - in fact, the mushrooms can glow a whole variety of different colors.

This research, and what will be built upon it, will help further pave the way for bioluminesence inspired applications.

The above mushroom image is not related to the story and may or may not be bioluminescent. It is liscensed under creative commons and is from Flickr User Kalle Gustafsson.