Biologist Merlin Sheldrake is an evangelist for the "neglected megascience" of mycology, the study of fungi and all the wonder within them. According to Sheldrake, fungi are the future—containing clues about our environment and as a source of sustainable food, packaging, and green building materials. Son of author and fringe science researcher Rupert Sheldrake, Merlin has just published a critically-acclaimed new book about mycology, titled Entangled Life. From The Guardian:
Entangled Life, which arrives garlanded with praise from nature writers Robert Macfarlane and Helen Macdonald, is an astonishing book that could alter our perceptions of fungi for ever.It seems somehow to tip the natural world upside down. The science it relates is complex. For his work on underground fungal networks in Panamanian forests, Sheldrake received a PhD in tropical ecology from Cambridge University. His principal interest is in mycorrhizal fungi, which are the kind that live in symbiosis with plants. Such fungi send out gossamer-fine tubes called hyphae, which weave into the tips of plant roots at cellular level; in this way, individual plants are joined to one another by an underground network – a vast, highly intricate, collaborative structure that has been dubbed the Wood Wide Web.[…]
In his book, Sheldrake hunts for truffles in Italy ("they were … socketed like skulls," he writes of those in Piedmont he saw for sale), and he pays due attention to those fungi that have mind-altering properties. "We still don't know why some contain psilocybin [a psychedelic compound]," he tells me. "It has been suggested that it was to befuddle insect pests, to take their minds off their next meal, but the problem with the deterrent theory is that it doesn't seem to be very effective". But it's his wilder facts that induce a sense of wonderment: the feeling of "vertigo" that he experienced as a boy, when he first grasped that the world below ground was just as diverse, ingenious and infinitely vast as that above it.
"Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures" (Amazon)