Researchers have discovered, what many have now dubbed the “wood wide web,” a fungi known as mycelium that connects to the roots of plants, and creates what expert Paul Stamets calls “Earth’s natural internet.”
Around 90% of land plants are in mutually-beneficial relationships with fungi. The 19th-century German biologist Albert Bernard Frank coined the word “mycorrhiza” to describe these partnerships, in which the fungus colonizes the roots of the plant.
This partnership allows for plants to provide carbohydrates to the fungi, and in return the fungi act as a biological superhighway, allowing for the exchange of nutrients, such as phosphorus, nitrogen and water.
University of British Columbia’s Suzanne Simard has been able to show that trees, such as the Douglas Fir and Paper Birch were capable of transferring carbon and nitrogen to smaller, weaker trees, who were not receiving enough sunlight.
“These plants are not really individuals in the sense that Darwin thought they were individuals competing for survival of the fittest,” says Simard in the 2011 documentary Do Trees Communicate? “In fact they are interacting with each other, trying to help each other survive.”
This fungal connection also allows for plants to communicate with one another, able to warn each other of impending danger.
University of Aberdeen’s David Johnson demonstrated that broad beans, who had mycelia connections, would warn each other of hungry aphids, and would begin to excrete their anti-aphid chemical defenses.
Those without the fungal connections showed no reaction.
“Some form of signaling was going on between these plants about herbivory by aphids, and those signals were being transported through mycorrhizal mycelial networks.”
As with the human internet, so too is this fungal network susceptible to cyber crime, hacking, even warfare.
Plants, such as the Phantom Orchid do not have the chlorophyll necessary for photosynthesis and must leech necessary nutrients for survival from surrounding plants via mycorrhiza.
Other plants, such as the Golden Marigolds and the American Black Walnut trees have been found to release toxins into the network to hinder the growth of surrounding plants in the fight for water and sunlight.
It is theorized that insects and worms can detect the exchange of nutrients occurring between mycelium and roots, able to then tap in and feed.
Now Connect This to What We Know About DNA
The older plants get, the more connected they become. Entire forests are said to be unified as one. These types of trees that have formed these extensive connections are known as mother trees: trees that have established generations of information, resources, and memories, much like how our DNA functions.
Scientists for example have observed memories being passed down for 14 generations among a species of roundworm.
“We don’t know exactly why this happens, but it might be a form of biological forward-planning,”says one of the team, Adam Klosin from EMBO and Pompeu Fabra University, Spain.
C. elegans worm. Credit: Adam Klosin, CRG
I may have a theory as to why this happens. Remember how we were told in school that 90% of our DNA is considered to be ‘junk’?
Well turns out, it’s not.
Computational Biologist Ewan Birney of the European Bioinformatics Institute of Cambridge, England has revealed a landscape that is absolutely teeming with important genetic elements, switches and signals embedded like runes.
“People always knew there was more there than protein-coding genes. It was always clear that there was regulation. What we didn’t know was just quite how extensive this was.”
Birney goes on to say something that resonated with me … a quote I will use often:
“I get this strong feeling that previously I was ignorant of my own ignorance, and now I understand my ignorance.”
Credit: Image courtesy Matt Hansen, University of Maryland
We are losing 36 football fields worth of trees every minute; 18 million acres are lost each year, roughly the size of Panama.
Forest loss contributes an estimated 15% of annual global carbon dioxide emissions, more than cars and trucks combined.
We aren’t just losing the ability for our planet to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, we are losing its genetic history.
If only there as an alternative, like hemp.
Want to know the real reason cannabis became illegal?