Our Cousin, The Mushroom…

Well that explains a lot about people…

Seems recent work on cladistics and both cellular structures and genetic change over time have resulted in Mushrooms (and the other fungi) being moved away from plants and in with animals in the group of Opisthokont. (In broken Latin “stick up your butt”…)

The opisthokonts (Greek: ὀπίσθιος (opísthios) = “rear, posterior” + κοντός (kontós) = “pole” i.e. “flagellum”) are a broad group of eukaryotes, including both the animal and fungus kingdoms. The opisthokonts, previously called the “Fungi/Metazoa group”, are generally recognized as a clade. Opisthokonts together with Apusomonadida and Breviata comprise the larger clade Obazoa.

It seems that the major division in evolution was when the single flagellum eucaryotes diverged from the ones with 2 flagella. (Thus animal sperm having just one flagellum is a reprise of our origins…) In general, it looks like we evolved from a group of critters that were scavengers and predators. Oh Joy…

Of course, it would be a Smith who put us there…

Flagella and other characteristics

A common characteristic of opisthokonts is that flagellate cells, such as the sperm of most animals and the spores of the chytrid fungi, propel themselves with a single posterior flagellum. It is this feature that gives the group its name. In contrast, flagellate cells in other eukaryote groups propel themselves with one or more anterior flagella. However, in some opisthokont groups, including most of the fungi, flagellate cells have been lost.

Opisthokonts characteristics include synthesis of extracellular chitin in exoskeleton, cyst/spore wall, or cell wall of filamentous growth and hyphae; the extracellular digestion of substrates with osmotrophic absorption of nutrients; and other cell biosynthetic and metabolic pathways. Genera at the base of each clade are amoeboid and phagotrophic.


The close relationship between animals and fungi was suggested by Thomas Cavalier-Smith in 1987, who used the informal name opisthokonta (the formal name has been used for the chytrids by Copeland in 1956), and was supported by later genetic studies.

Early phylogenies placed fungi near the plants and other groups that have mitochondria with flat cristae, but this character varies. More recently, it has been said that holozoa (animals) and holomycota (fungi) are much more closely related to each other than either is to plants, because opisthokonts have a triple fusion of carbamoyl phosphate synthetase, dihydroorotase, and aspartate carbamoyltransferase that is not present in plants, and plants have a fusion of thymidylate synthase and dihydrofolate reductase not present in the opisthokonts. Animals and fungi are also more closely related to amoebas than they are to plants, and plants are more closely related to the SAR supergroup of protists than they are to animals or fungi. Animals and fungi are both heterotrophs, unlike plants, and while fungi are sessile like plants, there are also sessile animals.

Cavalier-Smith and Stechmann argue that the uniciliate eukaryotes such as opisthokonts and Amoebozoa, collectively called unikonts, split off from the other biciliate eukaryotes, called bikonts, shortly after they evolved.


Opisthokonts are divided into Holomycota or Nucletmycea (fungi and all organisms more closely related to fungi than to animals) and Holozoa (animals, and all organisms more closely related to animals than to fungi); no opisthokonts basal to the Holomycota/Holozoa split have yet been identified. The Opisthokonts was largely resolved by Torriella et al. Holomycota and Holozoa are composed of the following groups

So does that mean Vegetarians can no longer eat mushrooms? Or that eating Chicken is OK ’cause they, too, are scavengers (and about as smart as a mushroom…)? Is the chicken EGG OK as it has no brain and is a single cell? But the chicken not so much as it runs around? Decisions decisions…

But Thank God for small favors, at least we are not related to the Slime Molds:

Holomycota (Fungus like)

chytrids (flagellated, zoosporic fungi)
microsporidia (previously thought to be sporozoans)
Hyaloraphidium (previously thought to be a green alga, now considered a fungus)
oomycetes (water molds) (now included in the SAR supergroup)
labyrinthulomycetes (slime nets) (now included in the SAR supergroup)
myxomycetes (now included in amoebozoans)

Though I find it a bit of a bother that we’re lumped in with “formerly considered parasitic fungi”:

Holozoa (Animal like)

Dermocystida (formerly considered parasitic fungi or sporozoans)
Ichthyophonida (formerly considered parasitic fungi incertae sedis)

Eccrinales (formerly considered trichomycetes)
Amoebidiales (formerly considered trichomycetes)
Corallochytrium (formerly considered a Heterokont)
Choanoflagellata (flagellates formerly included in protozoa)
including Myxozoa (previously considered fungi, now considered cnidarians)

Though having one of them in with us as animals is a bit distressing:


Myxozoa (etymology: Greek: μύξα myxa “slime” or “mucus” + thematic vowel o + ζῷον zoon “animals”) is a class of aquatic, obligately parasitic cnidarian animals. Over 1300 species have been described and many have a two-host lifecycle, involving a fish and an annelid worm or a bryozoan. The average size of a myxosporean spore usually ranges from 10 μm to 20 μm, whereas that of a malacosporean (a subclade of the Myxozoa) spore can be up to 2 mm. Myxozoans can live in both freshwater and marine habitats.

While the evolutionary history of myxozoans is still an active area of research, it is now understood that myxozoans are highly modified cnidarians that have undergone dramatic evolution from a free swimming, self-sufficient jellyfish-like creature into their current form of obligate parasites composed of a mere handful of cells. As myxozoans evolved into microscopic parasites, they lost many genes responsible for multicellular development, coordination, and cell-cell communication. The genomes of some myxozoans are now among the smallest genomes of any known animal species.

So our “relatives” are things like slime animals, parasites, and fungus. Sigh. And here I was bothered by the fact that all animals with teeth evolved from a “toothed worm” that was the first critter to invent teeth. It was bad enough being a glorified worm with a tooth; now I’ve got to deal with being a scavenger parasitic fungus relative. Sheesh. But at least now I know people came by their worst attributes honestly…

The Good & Useful Mushroom

What brought this on? A couple of interesting YouTube Videos about Mushrooms by a guy who’s revolutionizing several aspects of drugs, medicine, beekeeping, and maybe more. Seems ‘Shrooms have a LOT of interesting biochemistry going on, including things that stop Tuberculosis and Cancer. In some ways he’s your classical Hippy Magic Mushroom guy so some of his ideas are a bit “whacko whole earthy”, but on other things he’s quite competant, so maybe I’m just too narrow minded ;-)

Note in the first minute where he mentions mycelium making humus. Heard on the radio was a discussion of “mad cow” like prion disease spreading into the Elk and Reindeer across North America. A side point was made that “something in humus breaks down the prion” when other soils did not. Perhaps that’s the mold or mold products. At about 5 minutes he points out that fungi were the first land dwellers as they produce oxalic acid to break down rocks. Hmmmm…. shades of “liquid stone” technology… At about 8 minutes he describes turning a waste oil pile into soil using mushrooms. Want to clean up oil spills? Use his bags of mushroom spawn. At 10 minutes he gets into treatment for Tuberculosis and more, including Pox viruses. At about 15 minutes he turns cellulose into fungal sugars that then would be more easily turned to ethanol. 18 minutes:

One of the odd things is that the nuclei can wander around inside the mycelium. It’s like a network of one giant multi-nucleated cell. In this Ted talk the same guy, Stamets, covers particular mushrooms in a bit more formal way, including at about 6 minutes where he describes using mushroom extracts to control mosquitoes & flies. At 8 minutes he talks about using Turkey Tail mushrooms to increase immune response in cancer treatment. He talks about his 84 year old mother having non-operable metastasized breast cancer. Stage 4. Using Turkey Tail mushrooms with other drugs, she recovered… 11 minutes:

For anyone wanting an even more detailed view, this is a 1 hour 20 minute talk at “EcoFarm Conference” in 2017. Starts off a bit Gaia Earth Consciousness with panic mongering about the 6th Extinction Event and the end of life as we know it just around the corner, but then gets into some interesting facts about fungus and uses for fungi about 4 minutes in. Has an interesting ‘tip’ on preparing mushroom growing media – do an anerobic ferment in water that kills the aerobic contaminants, then drain and expose to air to kill the anerobic ones.

At one time I grew a batch of Oyster Mushrooms, ordered as a block of spawn on wood dowels, and enjoyed it, but attempting to move it on to other media was less successful. Now I have more clue. I’m very likely to grow some more “going forward” both because it was fun, but also because they were very tasty ;-) If they happen to have a lot of extra medicinal properties, well so much the better!

At about 8 minutes he covers some interesting history of how mushrooms contributed to keeping fire, and eventually the “punk” for early firearms. I’d not realized how we’d used mushrooms in history, other than as food.

So there you have it. A far more fascinating technology of mushrooms than I’d ever expected, and a very interesting set of uses. From here on out I’ll be buying a lot more mushrooms when grocery shopping. I made a very nice mushroom omlette the other day using some brown mushrooms from the grocery store. (i.e. not the usual white ones, but not the portabella either) Clearly I need to learn a few more names of mushroom types ;-) as I’d like to find that one again and don’t know what to ask for…

The conclusion I come to is that much of our history has been tied up with fungi for far longer and in far more depth than I’d ever known. Especially his point about all plants having the involvement of fungi in their growth, and the way bees have a lessened immune system compared to other bugs but that it gets up-regulated if / when they feed on the mushroom fungi normally found in their environment of origin. Clearly there has been co-evolution since we first split off from the fungi.

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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24 Responses to Our Cousin, The Mushroom…

  1. E.M.Smith says:

    Well this is a distressing thought for post-meteor-state:

    Some time after the Permian–Triassic extinction event (251.4 Ma), a fungal spike (originally thought to be an extraordinary abundance of fungal spores in sediments) formed, suggesting that fungi were the dominant life form at this time, representing nearly 100% of the available fossil record for this period. However, the relative proportion of fungal spores relative to spores formed by algal species is difficult to assess, the spike did not appear worldwide, and in many places it did not fall on the Permian–Triassic boundary.

    65 million years ago, immediately after the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction that famously killed off most dinosaurs, there is a dramatic increase in evidence of fungi, apparently the death of most plant and animal species leading to a huge fungal bloom like “a massive compost heap”.

    So right after major impact / extinction events everything molds or makes mushrooms… (so include a Field Guide To Edible Mushrooms in your post impact bug-out-bag /sarc;)

  2. John F. Hultquist says:

    I need to be more serious, but …
    I have Mushroom Syndrome . . . fed bullshit and kept in the dark.

    ~ ~ ~ ~ The Pacific Crest Trail crosses Hwy#20 in WA State at Rainy Pass; last pavement before Canada. At about 5,000 ft elevation the trail crosses Porcupine Creek. A trail crew I was with camped there for a week and there were a few hours of heavy rain. A day or so later there were mushrooms and other fungi all around. The quick response is always amazing. A great variety. Interesting critter shapes.

    Thanks for the information.

  3. jim2 says:

    My Arkansas relatives mixed a certain mushroom with sugar and left it on the porch rail for flies. Worked great.

  4. Graeme No.3 says:

    Amanita muscaria – fly agaric? It’s the red one with white spots.

    Amanita muscaria, The Fly Agaric for more. I am confused by his description that it is deadly, but not highly deadly. Does it kill you several times over?

    The pretty appearance and its use in kindergarten illustrations leads to children eating some. Those who survive learn not to eat any more. And for a candidate for the Darwin Award

  5. Power Grab says:

    Hooboy! I have many thoughts about this subject, but I want to restrict myself to one at this time.

    When I first started learning about fungi/mold/yeastie-beasties, it was from a source who might tend to make one fearful of them. I tend to take fear-mongering with several grains of salt.

    Then I started reading material from a different source who said they actually play a part in our body’s healing programs.

    Then I started reading a little about our microbiome as a general subject, but not digging very deeply [yet]. The new research doesn’t seem as afflicted with “hardening of the attitudes” as other branches of what we call science.

    Turkey Tail was one of the supplements I started taking a couple of years ago as part of an anti-cancer strategy. My usual source hasn’t had it for quite a while, so I’m not taking it now. (But I’m still taking about half of the supplements I started taking a couple years ago.)

    At first, the recommendation to take Turkey Tail was a bit concerning because of the general attitude that Source #1 had about such things in general. But on the other hand, I figured it was unlikely to be as destructive as conventional cancer treatments!

    I decided it would be OK to take Turkey Tail because of my belief that we need a variety of microorganisms to have a healthy microbiome. From what I can tell, we need both so-called “good” bugs and so-called “bad” bugs; they just need to be in balance.

    Also, because I decided that FEAR as a general attitude is not an appropriate way to deal with them. I figure that fungi/mold/yeastie-beasties have a place in the world, and work to do. It is to “recycle” dead and dying organic matter. I didn’t read that anywhere; I came up with that myself.

    So if the world was covered with dead and dying animals and plants “[s]ome time after the Permian–Triassic extinction event”, it’s highly likely that the fungi/mold/yeasties-beasties would have a heyday.

  6. Steve C says:

    Re Amanita, I tried it many years ago, when we were young and immortal. Our informal group of first-person recreational chemical investigators found that responses to it fell into three categories:

    Group I: The largest group, (includes me). Not long after you ingest the Amanita, it returns by the same route and leaves you feeling unpleasantly nauseous for a few hours. I suppose it might actually kill you if you ignore warnings like that and keep trying …
    Group II: Some people do report hallucinogenic experiences, typically much like typical vegetable hallucinogens and also of a few hours’ duration. (Maybe there is some sort of folk memory of this ‘trippiness’ which is why it’s often chosen to illustrate the ‘magic’ mushroom. Passing mention of witches ‘flying’: did they know how to prepare it to avoid the nausea?)
    Group III: One of us did not vomit, did not experience hallucinations, but appeared, and self-described as feeling, quite normal throughout. He felt quite left out – “I didn’t even get to throw up!” – but was mollified when we pointed out that his was probably the most interesting (non) reaction of us all.

    Conclusion: Like most of these things, if you really want to go there, make darn sure you know your own biochemistry and learn about the subject first if you’re not going for a Darwin. Really deadly fungi are, well, really deadly, even to the young and immortal.

    A Happy New Year to all here!

  7. cdquarles says:

    He he. I want to say that the base chemistry for all of our current anti-bacterials and a few of our anti-virals are …. ta da; derived from ‘poison’ excreted by fungi.
    Every successful biological organism alters its local environment to enhance its own survival. Part of that is excreting chemicals that inhibit the success of others. So, yes Virginia, it is categorically true that everything and nothing is toxic. It is all conditional. We even eat cyanide everyday. It isn’t toxic to us at the the dose we usually eat it and in the form we usually eat it.

  8. H.R. says:

    I think I’ll play it safe and just stick to truffles. Mmmmm…..!

    Christmas Day conversation at my sis’ house somehow turned to how our early ancestors determined if a forage food was safe to eat. We noted that one indicator of a toxic plant, berry, leaf, nut, root, etc, was if only one species ate the substance. That could be taken as an indication that the material was toxic, but the critter that could eat the material had developed an immunity to the toxin.

    Other than pigs and truffles, I can’t really recall seeing any forest or field beasties chowing down on fungi. I can’t recall reading about mushrooms being a part of this or that animal’s diet. Time to do a gargle search on ‘mushrooms as a favorite food of wildlife.’

  9. Ralph B says:

    I would like to hang out with him…he seems to be a fun guy

  10. cdquarles says:

    There’s a well known catch or two with that. It involves strychnine and some tropical or subtropical fruits. It turns out that humans can’t handle strychnine very well, but other vertebrates can. Oh, yeah, while other beasties do eat fungi, they mostly avoid the fruiting bodies (that’s the part we see most of the time). Fungi, like bacteria, are ubiquitous. You can’t completely avoid eating them. ;p

  11. H.R. says:

    Back from the search: Deer, bear, and squirrels! It seems the squirrels are unaffected by the toxins. Lot’s of mention of squirrels and mushrooms, but not much detail on the topic turned up in my quick and dirty search.

    There are lots of ‘shrooms and squirrels in deciduous forests, so it’s not a mystery why squirrels developed immunity to mushroom toxins.

  12. jim2 says:

    H.R. That may explain why squirrels are … well … squirrelly.

  13. Steven Fraser says:

    O/T (maybe funny) When I saw ‘Opisthokonts together with Apusomonadida and Breviata comprise the larger clade Obazoa.’ , I had to read it twice. The first time, my interpreter substituted …’Obamazoa’

  14. E.M.Smith says:

    @Steven Fraser:

    Not O/T at all, it’s about the clades ;-) Besides, it IS funny 8-0 I’ll not be able to read Obazoa with a straight face ever again…


    Hmmm…. We’re relatively closely related to squirrels (and other rodents – the primates are very closely related to them which is why rats and rabbits work well as lab animals for drug testing) so now I’m wondering if that’s why people can eat as many mushrooms as we can. Not as immune as squirrels but more so than the other critters that don’t eat any?


    The idea of “if they can eat it I can eat it” is a good FIRST test, but a bad LAST test. Lots of animals have special adaptation to diets we can’t handle. A simple example is the Panda eating bamboo leaves and the Koala eating eucalyptus leaves. Then there is the fact that if you collect edible snails you MUST “purge” them by feeding on neutral material (like corn meal) since if they have been eating, say, poison sumac leaves, you can be made sick by what is in them…

    Then there’s that problem of lots of wild animals have lots of diseases and parasites they picked up eating the stuff they eat, so you could well get what they’ve got… Parasitic worms are a common one as are liver flukes. In any real EOTWAWKI event, the LAST thing you want to be doing is foraging off wild animals or their food sources… When forced into that option, cook the hell out of everything!

    When I was about 9, the neighbor showed off the deer he had shot and hauled home in the back of his station wagon (with his kids in the rear seat just next to it). I noticed the fur was moving in spots. A load of big ticks wandering around looking for warmer blood. I often wondered how many made it onto his kids during the couple of hour ride home from the hills and how many got on him in the loading / unloading processes. Then what all diseases those ticks were harboring ( Lime Disease being only the most known / recent / trendy). Then there is plague that’s endemic in the rodents of California. Not enough to be a public health crisis, just a rare one or two cases make it to people and we treat it with antibiotics so nobody cares. But start regularly handling dead rodents and in a time of no antibiotics…

    So wait until those around you have been cleared out by “living off the land” while you plant radishes and green beans…

    FWIW I like the idea of having some mushrooms growing and knowing how to make more “wood media” – having a high protein food that can grow from chunks of wood sounds really beneficial, especially when it sprouts in about 2 weeks.

  15. E.M.Smith says:

    Looks like $26 to $46ish for a kit:

    I found this interesting:

    Mushroom Adventures began in 1996 in a San Francisco basement garage. The founder, Donald Simoni, had been growing mushrooms for over five years, when he needed more equipment: a pressure cooker that cost over $400.00. This seemed like a lot of money at the time to spend on a hobby, so Don made a few mushroom kits to sell at the local mushroom fair.

    Mushroom Kit sales went very well and Don earned half the money for the pressure cooker. Shortly after the San Francisco mushroom fair another mushroom fair in Santa Cruz was coming up so Don attended it and sold more mushroom kits. So began the business, Mushroom Adventures. Read more about our story…

    First off, a $400 pressure cooker is a might big pressure cooker!

    Then there are “Mushroom Fairs”? Who knew… Maybe I need to look into them…

    i like the photo they have of him with two plastic tubs, stacked, sprouting mushrooms. As I understand it, you just need wet sterile woody stuff + active mycelium at ‘about room temperature’ to get mushrooms.

    A search on “mushroom kits” also popped an Amazon link. I’ve not looked at it yet though.

  16. Graeme No.3 says:

    Mushroom kits are sold widely in Australian Hardware stores, mostly white or brown (portobello) types although I’ve seen Shiitaki. The more adventurish can try

    Incidentally your “brown mushrooms, not the portobella type” were probably Shiitaki. They are grown on beech or oak logs in Japan.

  17. E.M.Smith says:

    They weren’t Shiitaki – I’ve had them before. They are more flat and a distinctive flavor. These were physically like the usual bland white button things, a bit larger and brown, with a nice not distinctive flavor. I think I got them at Walmart in a styro box so nothing special. Just nice.

  18. Another Ian says:

    December 30, 2018 at 9:45 am · Reply

    Oh dear, the vegans and vegos just lost their main protein source.”


  19. Power Grab says:

    Another source:


  20. beththeserf says:

    But look on the positive side, just got themselves a new family member. Celebrate!

  21. E.M.Smith says:

    At Lucky’s found the mushrooms again. Crimini. Description at
    Looks right too:


    Crimini mushrooms are marketed under many names, including Baby Bella, Roman, Italian, Brown or Classic Brown mushrooms. They are similar in size to white mushrooms but are a light cocoa color and have a firmer texture. They are much more flavorful than white mushrooms, having a richer, earthy taste that activates the umami taste buds. Their flavor has often been referred to as meaty.

  22. Graeme No.3 says:

    All are Agraricus bisporus.

  23. Graeme No.3 says:

    Sorry, missed. A Happy New Year to you and your loved ones.

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