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Can mushrooms spontaneously die?

Can mushrooms spontaneously die?


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These are called mushrooms I believe, had been growing on my door for a few weeks. It's monsoon here. Last night I took a picture of it and it looked like this . Today when I woke up it became like this: . All this within 12 hours. I'm pretty sure nobody touched the fungus so I'm inclined to believe this was spontaneous.


There are several fungi that autodigest their lamellae to release spores. Yours seems to be one of them. Due to the black liquid they release during autodigestion, they have the common name inkcap.

As an example, read this Wikipedia article about Coprinus for more details.


Why are mushrooms poisonous?

Nicholas Evans' experience of mushroom poisoning was devastating, but how do they produce these toxins and are they really targeted at us? Chris Smith spoke to Tom Bruns from the University of California, Berkeley who's an expert on fungal ecology and evolution.

Chris - So, why do we think that fungi makes these toxins in the first place?

Tom - Well, the quick answer is we don't really know, but the prevalent theory would be that they're making these to prevent them from being eaten by other organisms that would chew up their fruit bodies before they can sporulate. Exactly which organisms are being targeted isn't clear in most cases.

Chris - It's an extraordinary case of overkill though, isn't it? If you listened to what Nick had to say, A.) It wasn't much of a deterrent and it happened much later, so it didn't really stop him destroying the fruiting body. So, humans presumably are not the target of these toxins.

Tom - Probably not, because we're not the major selective force. With few exceptions, we're not scouring the woods and clearing out all the mushrooms. Certainly, in North America, deer would be a very common vertebrate that would eat mushrooms and they eat a lot of them. A toxin like this would probably have a very similar effect on them, I would think.

Chris - Are there any animals that are invulnerable to the toxins? Can any animals eat these things with impunity?

Tom - Certainly, there's a lot of insects, particularly fungus flies, beetles, and so on that chew up lots of different mushrooms, including some of the most deadly. So they seem to have some immunity to it, yes.

Chris - And when they get inside the bodies of target organisms whether it's us, deer, rabbits, whatever, how do they actually tend to work? Do they all work in the same way as the one that Nick had?

Tom - There's a huge number of mushroom toxins that all act in very, very different ways that aren't even related to each other. The one that he encountered here goes straight for the kidneys, but I don't believe it's actually known how it does that. It's been relatively recent years that this has been sorted out that it is this particular mushroom or group of them that have this kidney toxin.

Chris - Once these toxins enter the body, is there any way that we can get rid of them?

Tom - With a lot of mushroom toxins, you basically get rid of it yourself very quickly. The ones that are less lethal, you're usually sick in hours after eating it. And the ones that are really lethal are the ones like we're discussing here that come on many hours after you've eaten them. In that case, the toxins are very, very difficult to eliminate and part of their toxicity is that they continue to cycle through your system and destroy more cells as they're doing that. So, they're tough to get rid of. I think in this particular case, usually what happens is you'd end up in dialysis very quickly and that can help to eliminate the toxin, but usually, by the time you're doing that, the damage to the kidneys is already extensive.

Chris - What about flipping the coin over and asking, well, if these things can have these devastating and dramatic effects in certain target organs, can we use that in some way and come up with some kind of novel therapeutic perhaps for destroying cancers for example?

Tom - The one that's best known is the toxin that's in the amanitis, the alpha-aminitin. In that case, it shuts off a key enzyme in your system that allows you to produce protein. So, it's a very, very general target and the only reason that the liver in that case ends up being the main vulnerable organ is it gets recycled into the liver again and again, and concentrated in it. So, it probably wouldn't be useful for cancer treatment, but it's been very useful for research. They've use it to study the process of transcription and making of proteins because it allows you to shut it off. So, it's actually a useful chemical for molecular biology, but probably not medicine per se.

Chris - And based on your evolution knowledge, where did fungi get the chemical know-how to make these toxins in the first place?

Tom - So, in the case of the alpha-aminitin that I was just talking about, there's been some very recent data on that from genomic sequences of the aminitin mushroom and it looks like the toxin is related to things like spider venoms and so on. So, there are other organisms that make related compounds, but exactly, how the fungi acquired them is not yet clear. What is clear is that fungi are really good at making lots and lots of diverse chemical compounds and some of these end up being toxins, and very useful to the fungi in some cases where they may kill off a competitor or they may prevent themselves from being eaten by it or something, but fungi in general are just really good chemists. They make lots of different compounds.


1. Death Cap, Amanita phalloides

Victims of death cap mushrooms can experience liver and kidney failure. Zoonar GMBH/Alamy

The death cap is included in every “most dangerous” list of mushrooms because it accounts for more than half of all known poisonings. Half a small one can kill an adult man. This genus of fungi is native to Europe but is increasingly showing up in North America. Death caps look like any common small, white mushroom. The poison is amanitin, which is a particularly nasty cocktail of eight other toxins found in amino acids. Famous people who may have died from eating death caps include the Roman emperor Claudis (54 A.D.) and Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI in 1740. Unlike some other mushrooms, death caps are equally deadly cooked, raw, frozen, or dried.

What happens if you eat one?

Symptoms occur six to 24 hours after eating and include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Typically—and this is the really dangerous part—you might feel alright for awhile after this, which leads to many patients being discharged from hospitals, sometimes with fatal results. The pain comes back, along with jaundice, convulsions, coma, and death. The liver and kidneys—necessary organs to your continued existence—fail. Recovery can take place in one to two weeks, but you never really get over it.


Using similarities in DNA to classify organisms

However, thanks to modern technology, the analysis of genetic relationships between species and organisms is now possible and has led to looking at relationships between forms of life differently. In 1990, Carl Woese proposed the &ldquoThree Domains System&rdquo of classification based on genetic similarities between organisms. The system shows a common ancestor of all life divided into three broad domains&mdashBacteria, Archaea, and Eukaryotes (the organisms with a nucleus to store their DNA).

By examining the genes of different species, both animal and fungi, mutational changes can be observed, and genealogical relationships can be determined that stretch back millions of years.

As it turns out, animals and fungi share a common ancestor and branched away from plants sometime around 1.1 billion years ago. Only later did animals and fungi separate on the genealogical tree of life, making fungi more closely related to humans than plants. Most likely, this common ancestor was a single-celled organism that exhibited sperm-like characteristics (like an animal) and then a later developmental stage with a stronger cell wall (fungi).

A phylogenetic tree based on rRNA analysis. On the right-hand side, notice the divergence of plants, fungi, and animals. (Photo Credit: Sting &ndash fr: Sting/Wikimedia Commons)

Are mushrooms vegetables?

Simple answer? No, a mushroom is not a vegetable. Mushrooms are fruiting bodies of macroscopic filamentous fungi. When mycology (the study of fungi) first arose, it was a part of botany because fungi were regarded as primitive plants.

The main difference between a plant (vegetable) and a mushroom is how they acquire their food. Plants possess chlorophyll and produce their food through photosynthesis. Fungi exist on decaying material in nature. In addition, there are obvious structural differences, such as the lack of leaves, roots, and seeds. Thus, fungi now have their own kingdom based on the cellular organization.

However, this is the scientific side of things, but let&rsquos take a look at the other side &ndash food! In everyday life, we do not use science to classify our food. Tomatoes and cucumbers are scientifically the fruits of a plant, but we still call them vegetables. Similarly, mushrooms are not vegetables or fruits, or even meat. They are in themselves a different category, but for convenience, we lump them together with vegetables.

Different kinds of mushrooms have various health benefits. At one point in history, mushrooms were so highly regarded that it was actually forbidden for the common folk to eat them! They were reserved only for royal families.


Myths: Never Rely on These for Poisonous Mushroom Identification

Another cause of poisoning is relying on myths to help identify poisonous mushrooms. This strategy is dangerous, as many of these myths are inaccurate and have no scientific basis. To help avoid sickness (or worse!) never use a folk tale when making a classification. Instead use local knowledge gained from books and forays with experts.

Below are some common examples of poisonous mushroom "fiction".

  • All white mushrooms are safe to eat. I have actually heard people say this and it may be the most erroneous myth of all. Not all poisonous mushrooms are brightly colored. The destroying angel from earlier in this page is just one glaring example of a hazardous white mushroom.
  • Heating a poisonous mushroom and stirring it with a silver spoon will turn the spoon black. Some believe that the toxins will blacken silver when heated. This myth has been around for a long time with no basis in fact. To date no toxins are known to have this reaction with silver.
  • Any mushroom is safe to eat once thoroughly cooked. This is an unreliable assumption. Most toxins are not broken down by heat and are not made safer by cooking.
  • Insects can tell which mushrooms are poisonous and will avoid them. Not true! Just because it's deadly to us doesn't mean it's deadly to a bug. Some toxic species, such as the death cap, will still harbor insects and their larvae.
  • They taste bitter/sour/bad. Don't rely on those tricky taste buds! I've read reports of people mistakenly eating amanitas and saying they tasted good.
  • All poisonous mushrooms have a pointed cap. The shape of any part of a mushroom plays no role in its toxicity.

There you have it! Always stick to the species you know and seek hand-on local instruction. However, even experienced mushroom hunters have poisoned themselves so remember the age-old adage:

When in doubt, throw it out!

The false morel picture was taken by Severine Meißner and is published on Wikipedia under the GNU Free Documentation License.

What Do You Have to Say About Poisonous Mushrooms?

Share your tips for avoiding poisonous mushrooms. If you have a scary story, post it here so others can learn from your mistake.


Bad News For Women Who Want Those Orgasm-Inducing Mushrooms

A 14-year-old report that recently resurfaced on the Internet alleges to have found mushrooms that caused women to spontaneously orgasm growing atop thousand-year-old lava fields on the Big Island of Hawaii.

John Holliday and Noah Soule's findings were published in 2001 in the International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms, according to the blog IFL Science.

Then, after so many years of obscurity, the report resurfaced online and went viral -- and this week, it caused women everywhere to clamor for magical mushrooms.

But could these mushrooms really give off a scent that leads to a happy ending?

(The link to the original article is currently down, but the report's title is still included in the site's table of contents. You can view an archived version of the official study here.)

Don Hemmes, professor of biology at the University of Hawaii and author of Mushrooms of Hawaii, told The Huffington Post that he knows the article very well, but doesn't think much of it.

"I think it is flawed on many levels," he said.

The mushrooms referenced in the study are known as netted stink horns and also grow in China, he said, adding that they can be used as an ingredient in soups and bought in airport gift shops.

Science Alert, an educational blog, also says "there are a bunch of problems" with the study's claims.

In their original study, Holliday and Soule performed a "smell-test" on the "unnamed Dictyophora species" of bright orange fungus with an unspecified number of male and female volunteers, claiming that "nearly half of the female test subjects experienced spontaneous orgasms while smelling this mushroom."

But Science Alert says the study's results show no scientific evidence that proved the orgasms were caused by the scent of the mushrooms and the researchers "did little to prove that the self-reported orgasms actually happened."

Furthermore, Science Alert adds, "the results of an experiment cannot be seen as definitive until they are reproduced under a different set of conditions."

Indeed, it is nearly impossible to find a secondary study that confirms that these mushrooms have any sexually arousing effect.

An online comment credited to Debbie Viess, a biologist and founder of the Bay Area Mycological Society -- mycology is the study of fungi -- goes one step further, calling the study "garbage science".

"Another hidden factoid regarding that paper, confessed to me by Holliday (who sent me a copy of his paper) was that the 'research' was funded by a local pharmaceutical company that hoped to market any discovered 'aphrodisiacs,'" reads the comment, written in July in response to a blog post about the study.

Viess, however, doesn't think that Holliday was trying to make anything up.

"I think that Holliday may well have even believed in the unsubstantiated underlying premise," Viess explained to HuffPost. "But that doesn't make the study valid, repeatable or anything other than preposterous, going on what he showed me in the expanded paper, coupled with what I actually know about stinkhorns, which is quite a bit."

Holliday, who is president of Aloha Medicinals Inc., a producer of medicinal organic mushrooms, said he does intend to market these mushroom's effects.

"This is a paper I published 14 years ago," Holliday said. "This is a research project in the works, with the intention to bring this on the market as a drug. Also, no cultures [or] spores are available for anyone else to grow this."

So. sorry, ladies (and significant others). If you really want to reach that climax, it seems you might just have to do it the old-fashioned way.

This article has been updated with new quotes from Viess about her opinion of the study, replacing an earlier paraphrase of comments she posted online.


The Second Law of Thermodynamics

The second law of thermodynamics states that for any spontaneous process, the overall ΔS must be greater than or equal to zero yet, spontaneous chemical reactions can result in a negative change in entropy. This does not contradict the second law, however, since such a reaction must have a sufficiently large negative change in enthalpy (heat energy). The increase in temperature of the reaction surroundings results in a sufficiently large increase in entropy, such that the overall change in entropy is positive. That is, the ΔS of the surroundings increases enough because of the exothermicity of the reaction so that it overcompensates for the negative ΔS of the system. Since the overall ΔS = ΔSsurroundings + ΔSsystem, the overall change in entropy is still positive.


Delayed Kidney Damage: Orellanine

Mushrooms: Cortinarius orellanus, C. rubellus (=C. orellanoides, C. speciosissimus, C. rainierensis), and C. gentilis. C. splendens, C. atrovirens, and C. venenosus, may possibly cause orellanine like poisoning.

Extremely Serious. Onset of symptoms from orellanine poisoning can be very greatly delayed (as much as three weeks), the toxin isn't very well understood, and specific treatments are not available. A 1975 Finnish paper had incorrectly reported that dried Cortinarius gentilis caused severe damage when fed to rats, but their identification of C. gentilis was incorrect and later studies showed that C. gentilis does not contain orellanine. The first orellanine poisoning in North America involved kidney failure in a Michigan woman who consumed a Cortinarius species similar to Cortinarius orellanus but found under oaks in 2008. In 2010 this new species was named Cortinarius orellanosus. The second known North American orellanine case (2020) involved a Quebec man who consumed Cortinarius rubellus from a sphagnum bog. Synonyms of C. rubellus include Cortinarius rainierensis, Cortinarius speciosissimus, and Cortinarius orellanoides.

Symptoms occur within 36 hours to 3 weeks of ingestion (average is about 8 days), and include nausea, vomiting, lethargy, anorexia, frequent urination, burning thirst, headache, sensations of coldness and shivering (fever generally absent), evidence or progressive kidney failure.

Beyond the standard management of kidney failure, there is little but supportive treatment of use in cases of orellanine poisoning. Patients with severe, but not irreversible damage may begin to recover kidney function between two and four weeks after the onset of symptoms. NOTE: The compounds involved in this syndrome show a very strong uv fluorescence. Both the mushrooms and tissues of the poisoned individual will exhibit this fluorescence.


Mystery Solved: Why The Cat Craves Mushrooms (And People Do, Too)

Anyone who lives with a cat knows that fruits and vegetables do not top the feline food chart. So it's a surprise to hear that some cats do crave mushrooms.

This tale starts with Ellen Jacobson, an amateur mushroom hunter in Colorado. As she was cooking up a bolete mushroom, her cat Cashew started brushing against her legs. She put some of the mushrooms in a bowl, and Cashew gobbled them up. "He didn't like them raw," she told The Salt. "He only liked them cooked."

She was puzzled as to why a meat-loving cat would love fungi. But she soon found that other peoples' cats wanted mushrooms, too.

That oddity is a clue to how the taste preferences of humans and animals evolved, based on the foods we need to survive.

Mushrooms have a lot of glutamate, an amino acid that gives them their rich, savory flavor. Glutamate is one of the chemicals responsible for the umami flavor it's one of the five flavors sensed by humans, along with salty, sweet, sour, and bitter. (Check out Robert Krulwich's engaging piece on the origins of umami here.)

The notion that a cat might crave mushrooms isn't a big surprise to Gary Beauchamp, director of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. For decades, he has been studying how different species sense flavor. Cats have been a big focus of his research.

In 2005, Beauchamp and his colleagues proved that cats, tigers and other felines can't taste sweetness because they lack a functional gene for sweetness taste receptors. But they do have genes for the receptors that detect the umami flavor of a wide array of amino acids in protein. So Cashew and any other mushroom-craving cats are really on a hunt for protein, not for fungi, he says.

"One experiment nature made was to have certain species that eat nothing but meat," Beauchamp told The Salt. "How that shapes their sensory world can tell us something about how the sensory world of everyone, including humans, is constrained by biology."

It's a good thing that cats don't crave sweets they aren't physically able to digest carbohydrates.

When Beauchamp's paper was published in 2005, he says, "We got a ton of mail saying, 'Yes, but my cat likes sweets.' " He thinks that those cats are responding to the fat or protein in cake and ice cream, not the sugar. And he thinks humans are probably deluding themselves if they think they can taste more flavors than animals.

Humans are omnivorous and have a wide variety of flavor receptors, which help us identify the many foods that we can digest. Dogs have sweet receptors, too.

But veterinarians say that neither dogs nor cats should eat mushrooms, and the North American Mycological Association warns that both dogs and cats are attracted by the odor of wild mushrooms and can be poisoned as a result.

The Salt cottoned onto this story thanks to Jef Akst, who wrote about Ellen Jacobson and her mushroom-craving cats in the current edition of The Scientist. She had found the story thanks to two researchers who had seen Jacobson's article in a mycological newsletter out in Colorado and written about it in a scientific journal.

So you never know where you're going to find a story that solves a mystery involving felines, fungi and taste.


Amanita phalloides poisoning: Mechanisms of toxicity and treatment

Amanita phalloides, also known as 'death cap', is one of the most poisonous mushrooms, being involved in the majority of human fatal cases of mushroom poisoning worldwide. This species contains three main groups of toxins: amatoxins, phallotoxins, and virotoxins. From these, amatoxins, especially α-amanitin, are the main responsible for the toxic effects in humans. It is recognized that α-amanitin inhibits RNA polymerase II, causing protein deficit and ultimately cell death, although other mechanisms are thought to be involved. The liver is the main target organ of toxicity, but other organs are also affected, especially the kidneys. Intoxication symptoms usually appear after a latent period and may include gastrointestinal disorders followed by jaundice, seizures, and coma, culminating in death. Therapy consists in supportive measures, gastric decontamination, drug therapy and, ultimately, liver transplantation if clinical condition worsens. The discovery of an effective antidote is still a major unsolved issue. The present paper examines the clinical toxicology of A. phalloides, providing the currently available information on the mechanisms of toxicityinvolved and on the current knowledge on the treatment prescribed against this type of mushrooms. Antidotal perspectives will be raised as to set the pace to new and improved therapy against these mushrooms.

Keywords: Amanita phalloides Amatoxins Kidney Liver RNA polymerase II Therapy.


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