The Secret Life of Fungi

The Kingdom: How Fungi Made Our World: Fungi Are ...

Prototaxetis fungi

Fungal Empire

Directed by Annamaria Talas and Simon Nasht (2018)

Film Review

Featuring environmental activist David Suzuki, this documentary explains that fungi are the oldest life form on Earth, dating back 1 billion years. Scientists have recently reclassified them as a separate from either plants or animals. Although they eat other organisms, as animals do, like plants, they also have the ability to continually change their structure as they search for food.

With their ability to break down rock to extract minerals, fungi created all the soil supporting land-based plants.

Five hundred million years ago, the first single-celled plant (algae) moved from water to land, where it formed a symbiotic relationship with the fungus it found. Now nearly every plant on Earth is nurtured through a symbiotic relationship with fungi. Fungi provide complex plant species with essential minerals while the plants provide fungi with sugars they manufacture via photosynthesis.

For millennia, planet Earth was dominated by gigantic eight meter tall fungi called prototaxetis. Found on every continent, their dominance ended with the advent of insects and large trees. New fungi evolved to form a symbiotic relationship with trees that made forests possible.

Presently vast underground fungal networks (that Suzuki calls the woodwide web) connect trees with one another. “Mother” trees use the network to send sugars to younger and weaker trees, as well as to transmit danger signals about environmental threats.

Following an asteroid collision 66 million years ago wiping out 70% of Earth’s species, fungi again became the dominant species. Because they were cold-blooded, large reptiles like dinosaurs were helpless to fight off fungal infections. This gave a clear advantage to warm-blooded mammals, who are resistant to all but a handful of fungal infections.

Unsurprisingly new evidence suggests the first grains humankind domesticated were chosen for their suitability to be fermented by fungi into beer. The discovery of grains suitable for bread making occurred much later.

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