The Dark Side of Mushrooms
While I am writing these lines, there is little sign of the supposedly merry month of May. The weather is more reminiscent of autumn. However, an important part of this time of year is missing for me: the edible mushrooms that sprout in the forest, such as porcini mushrooms or chanterelles. They enrich our meal plan from August or September, for example as part of sauces or pasta dishes.
Not being a mushroom expert, however, I avoid experiments. Only very few species that I really know are in the basket. I like to leave all the others as they are and at most enjoy their shape (like the stinkhorn) or color (like the toadstools). In general, edible mushrooms form only a very small part of the diversity in this third kingdom of eukaryotic organisms.
The department of sac fungi, for example, is unmanageably large and includes, among other things, many yeast and mold fungi that can harm humans, animals or plants. We are devoting a three-part series to the dark side of mushrooms, beginning with this issue. Fungi can cause dangerous infectious diseases in humans and spread to hospitals. Others are transported around the world by us and world trade and endanger animal and plant species in the affected areas, such as amphibians in South America, bats in North America or ash trees in Europe. And a third group destroys entire crops, threatening millions of people with hunger. Our series begins with these pests. Starting on page 38, Thomas Miedaner from the University of Hohenheim explains how the fungi infest plants and how we can combat them to ensure harvests.
We are also starting a second series in this issue, dedicated to a special cosmos: our consciousness. We've been trying to figure it out for centuries, and yet many questions remain unanswered. Now artificial neural networks – the "ghost in the machine" forms the prelude to the three-part series from p. 12 – and mathematics should help us to enlighten our minds. And experiments continue to play a role. One of them wants to put two of the most prominent models to the test - and either confirm or refute them.