Fungus Opera

By Carl Zimmer | September 16, 2008 8:04 pm

Have you ever seen a fungus firing its spores to the tune of the Anvil Chorus from Il Travatore?

I’ll take that as a no.

Nicholas Money, an expert on fungi at Miami University, has been playing around with very fast video. Ultra fast. As in 250,000 frames-a-second fast. He knew exactly what this kind of video was made for. To film fungi that live on dung as they discharge their spores. These tiny fungi can blast spores as far as six feet away, boosting the odds that they’ll land on a clean plant that a cow or other grazing animal may eat. The fungi develop inside the animal, get pooped out with its dung, and fire their spores once more.

Money’s results were not just significant, but beautiful. The fungi fire their spores up to 55 miles an hour–which translates to an acceleration of 180,000 g. Money calls it “the fastest flight in nature.”

Money has just published his results in the journal PLOS One, and his students, in a justified fit of ecstasy, have created the first fungus opera. Behold:


Comments (35)

  1. Absolutely brilliant.

  2. Bruce

    Wait … you mean that’s dung on the left of the frame!?

  3. Stacy

    Amazing. Someone buy that man a beverage of his choice. He deserves it.

  4. Lawrence Leonard

    Buller wrote a few hundred pages about the fungus, the anamorph of a Zygomycete, Pilobolus. I believe he described it going about 12 feet (possibly more) and I have seen it go this far myself germinating from some horse dung in a demonstration put on by Prof Don Pfister at the Humboldt Research Station, Eagle Hill, Maine.
    It is an easy fungus to grow from horse dung and great to show phototropism.
    It will appear in a few days. generally.
    Laurie Leonard

  5. Jim H. White

    I love to see work from scientists with a bit of whimsy; good science requires both a sense of wonder and a sense of humor.

  6. Tucker

    How is that ejection speed even possible? Man, now I gotta spend my day *learning*, my curiosity is far too piqued.

  7. lkr

    Filmed by Nicholas Money … these fungal blasts would be Money shots??

  8. Ralph L Caines

    isn’t all opera fungal…

  9. frelkins

    Tucker has the big question: how do they do it? The mechanism would obviously have incredible applications on a larger scale.

  10. kuhnigget

    I will never look at a slice of camembert the same….

  11. Kim

    Stacey, that’s not a man. It’s a fungi.

  12. Mike D.

    frelkins: Years ago, there were “rocket” toys that you filled with water, pumped full of air, and then released the clip on the pump, letting the rocket shoot several feet into the air. Not 180kG, granted, but that is what this would be scaled up. Darned square-cube rule.

    kuhnigget: Cheese is from bacteria, not mold, and I doubt mushrooms work this way. It’s cow patties you need to never look at the same way again… they have a 6-foot ranged attack you never knew about.

    Dr. Money: Awesome. ‘Nuff said.

  13. Axel G.

    Mike D.: Are you arguing that Camembert doesn’t have an outer layer of white mold or that Camembert isn’t a cheese?

  14. Dan L

    Camembert, Blue Cheese, and many other cheeses are ripened via mold (penicillium in many cases). But I think they are first processed by bacteria, then mold.

  15. Jim G

    “Nicholas Money, an expert on fungi at Miami University, has been playing around with very fast video”

    I guess you could call this the “Money shot”?

  16. I bet this dude is a fungi to hang around with, what with all the talk of a entering a shooting team into the next olympics.

    Long live “spore”t!

  17. sistaroo

    Hey Mike D!

    Don’t forget about Roquefort, Stilton and Gorgonzola! Just a few of the delectable varieties of cheese that contain mold…….

  18. larry

    Is that camera fast enough to catch those picture?
    or this is just computer emulate it.

  19. Kinda weird yet interesting.

  20. That is wonderful! And that sense of whimsy and delight on the part of their professors is how two of my kids ended up as biology majors. Well done!

  21. MUBotaviola

    The biodynamics and physics of fungi are pretty amazing. I’m lucky to have Nik as a professor.


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The Loom

A blog about life, past and future. Written by DISCOVER contributing editor and columnist Carl Zimmer.

About Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer writes about science regularly for The New York Times and magazines such as DISCOVER, which also hosts his blog, The LoomHe is the author of 12 books, the most recent of which is Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed.


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