Category Archives: Fungus

Wine-delivering wasps

By John Upton

Yeast is a salubrious if invisible vintner, and scientists have discovered an important role that wasps have played in its spread and evolution in vineyards around the world.

Species of the single-celled fungal genus Saccharomyces feast on grape sugar and break it down to create alcohol molecules.

(That’s not all, of course. By shearing carbon and oxygen atoms away from carbohydrates in decomposing barley, the yeast produces booze while shaking loose pockets of carbon dioxide that manifest as bubbles in a freshly cracked beer. When the yeast produces those bubbles inside dough, the result is bread’s delightfully airy texture. Other genera of yeast fashion hard liquor, chocolate, soy sauce and scores of life’s other routine gastronomic indulgences from otherwise questionably-edible ingredients.)

Most modern wine, beer and bread makers purchase Saccharomyces and pour the yeast directly into their concoctions. But wine, beer and bread emerged as staples long before anybody understood their microbiotic secrets — in various continents and countless cultures over at least the last 9,000 years. Many of these early vintners, brewers and bakers relied on nature to deposit the mystical ingredient into their potions.

Where did this yeast come from, if not from a packet? How could nature be so dependably relied upon to provide this ingredient, apparently from thin air?

Illustrated by Perry Shirley
Illustrated by Perry Shirley

The answer rests in fungi’s remarkable ability to flood the environment with its own microscopic spores and then to lay low, requiring little to no sustenance, until it settles on food that allows it to quickly flourish.

A team of French and Italian scientists reported in 2012 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that vineyard-visiting social wasps in Italy were found to be both vectors and natural reservoirs of S. cerevisiae. The group, which expects to publish follow-up research in the same journal shortly, concluded that the wasps served as a “key environmental niche for the evolution” of a yeast used for winemaking — a yeast that cannot spread through the air unaided.

The group found the yeast inside the guts and nests of wasps, suggesting that the insects inadvertently gather the yeast while foraging in vineyards for food. Hibernating queens provide the yeast with a warm and safe winter home, and then the progenies of the queens help deposit the fungus back onto grapes as the fruit comes into season.

“Our work suggests that wasps could move wine strains and maintain diversity, favoring crosses between strains involved in wine making and wild strains,” Duccio Cavalieri, a microbiology professor at the  University of Florence who was involved with the research.

(A version of this post originally appeared on Wonk on the Wildlife in 2012.)

Heterokaryosis hypothesis: Could it help feed the world?

By John Upton

As scientists have started to figure out what a mycorrhizal fungus really is, they’ve discovered that it might be a really fun guy.

I mean, ahem. They’ve discovered that it might really be fungi.

Genetic sequencing is revealing surprising secrets of arbuscular mycorrhizae. The discoveries are casting doubt on notions of fungal individuality and offering new ways of boosting the amount of food that’s grown the world over.

Mycorrhizal fungi, aka myco, are soil dwellers that forage for water and nutrients, which they exchange for sugars produced by photsynthesizing plants. As I explained recently in Grist, they cool the globe and boost crop yields.

Research during the past decade suggests that what many of us would assume was a single myco fungus might actually be lots of mini fungi bits — genetically diverse nuclei that live and work together inside what we would logically perceive to be a fungus. There, the nuclei collaborate to create long mycelia and hyphae that stretch from root to root, delivering water and nutrients up to the plants, and passing carbon from the plants down into the soil.

Illustrated by Perry Shirley.
Illustrated by Perry Shirley.

This proposed blend of different nuclei is called the heterokaryosis hypothesis (a heterokaryon is a cell containing genetically diverse nuclei) — and it’s highly controversial. A recently flurry of papers has concluded that it is flat-out wrong, but those findings have been criticized by scientists who subscribe to the hypothesis.

If correct, the hypothesis could help scientists solve a couple of longtime fungal mysteries.

For one thing, it could help explain how and why mycelia from seemingly different fungi fuse together as they snake through the soil.

It could also explain how these types of fungi reproduce. Molecular evidence tells us that the fungi exchange genes, which suggests that they are mating. But scientists have never been able to figure out quite how they’re doing it. The heterokaryosis hypothesis suggests it’s the nuclei within each fungus that are breeding. It appears that they are migrating through fusions between the hollow mycelia.

“Why this heterokaryosis thing is so important,” said Ian Sanders, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Lausanne, “is because — I believe — we can use these genetic differences among the nuclei to create fungi that make plants grow better.”

Sanders has been involved with research in Colombia, where fungi have been developed that boosted cassava yields by one fifth while requiring less fertilizer. The research program is being expanded to Africa, where cassava, a root vegetable similar to a potato, is a dietary staple.

The breakthroughs relied on breeding techniques that took advantage of fungal heterokaryosis. More such breakthroughs would mean bigger yields of crops, more food, and less world hunger.

(Speaking of food, it’s worth noting that the heterokaryosis theory has nothing to do with mushrooms. There are two main types of mycorrhizae. Endomycorrhizae, which are the subject of this article, are arbuscular. They pierce the roots of plants with tiny vesicles and arbuscules, which are microscopic organs that helped both kingdoms of life adapt to life on land some 460 million years ago. It is the other type of mycorrhizae, ectomycorrhizae, the less common and less ancient union that engulfs roots without penetrating them, that produces mushrooms.)

Endomycorrhizae fungi infuse the roots of nine out of ten crop varieties, yet we know precious little about them. That’s largely because of complications inherent in trying to study an organism that’s intricately woven into the body of another; the result of nearly a half billion years of interdependent evolution.

The heterokaryosis hypothesis has its detractors. They point to research, such as this paper published this month in PLOS Genetics, in which nuclei sampled from a single fungus were nearly genetically identical. Supporters of the hypothesis point to findings from other research where vast genetic diversity appears to have been discovered. Sample sizes in some of the experiments have been very low, and just a few strains have been analyzed, making all of the results highly contentious.

One believer in the hypothesis is Toby Kiers, a mycological researcher at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. “It’s a neat concept, because even within an individual you’ve got individuals,” she said.

Kiers will begin lab experiments next month designed to help breed mycorrhizal strains that further boost crop yields. I highlighted the planned research in a recent magazine article about myco fungus in The Ascender:

[Kiers] has secured funding to watch mycelia squeeze through tiny mazes, peering at them through microscopes as they trade nutrients with plants for sugars under different conditions. The goal, she says, is to “study their decision-making skills.”

Kiers’s research will combine cutting-edge microscopy and mycology with old-fashioned breeding techniques in a bid to select the most useful fungal strains. “They’re quite easy to select on,” she said, “because there’s so much genetic variability — even within a single hyphae, within a single spore.”

Human infections are dead ends for valley fever fungus

By John Upton

People infected with two closely-related species of fungi are dying in growing numbers in the American southwest. The Coccidioides spores are blown with dust into lungs, where they can trigger a painful and sometimes-deadly condition known as valley fever.

But any cocci that ends up in a human has hit a dead end. It will not reproduce to spawn a new generation.

That’s because of the lifecycle adopted by these varieties of cocci after evolving with the rodents that share their desert home. The coccis’ ancient ancestors lived and dined on plants. Then they evolved to feast instead on the rotting flesh of dead animals. Now they have evolved to live inside a living mammal, sometimes waiting for years for the host to die so they can pounce and quickly consume the fresh kill.

Illustrated by Perry Shirley.
Illustrated by Perry Shirley.

Mammals whose immune systems can’t control the fungus may die quickly. But as I explain in Vice’s Motherboard blog, most animals that are infected with cocci develop few symptoms — and those symptoms are normally short-lived:

Normally, [the Cocci] eek out lives as filaments called hyphae. The hyphae live in the soil and produce spores, a lucky few of which get sniffed into the lungs of desert rodents. The spores balloon in size inside the host, forming spherules. The mammal immune system kicks quickly into gear at this point, building walls around the spherules, containing them and developing immunity against further attacks.

It’s when the immune system fails to contain these spherules that the fungus can propagate throughout its victim, sometimes with deadly consequences. As an infected rodent dies, collapsing into the desert, the cocci burst out of suspended animation and unleash streamers of hyphae that eat the rotting meat. As the fungus feasts, hyphae and spores slip back into the soil, ready to start the cycle all over again.

Humans don’t slip into the desert sands when we die. We are embalmed or cremated, making any infection a waste of time for the fungus and, in some cases, a waste of life for humanity. “If a cocci spore gets into a human, it has made a big mistake,” John Taylor, a University of California at Berkeley mycologist, told me. “It’s unlikely to ever become adapted to living in humans.”

Research: Bat-killing fungus arrived from afar

By John Upton

A ripple of bat deaths has grown since 2006 to become millions of Chiroptera deep, stretching out from its New York epicenter into five Canadian provinces and west at least as far as Missouri. The latest state to be affected was Minnesota, where infected bats were discovered in two parks.

The dead bats were all members of species that hibernate — and they succumbed to white nose syndrome. The disease is caused by a fungus that eats away at their wings and faces.

Little brown bats are among the worst affected. These adorably tiny bats were common throughout Eastern America as little as a decade ago, sucking down mosquitoes and other pests during their nocturnal maunders. Now the species appears to be on the verge of being listed as federally endangered.

Illustrated by Perry Shirley.
Illustrated by Perry Shirley.

Mammals appear to have developed high body temperatures to help stave off infections of fungi. But hibernating bats have a chink in that armor: When they hibernate, their body temperatures plummet. And when most bats hibernate, they huddle together, which helps the fungal infection spread through the slumbering colony.

What caused this fast-moving fungus to suddenly begin attacking bats? Did it go rogue, evolving from a soil eater into a devourer of bat flesh? Or is it an invasive species that arrived from some far-flung place?

A pair of Wisconsin-based U.S. Forest Service scientists studied the DNA of the disease along with that of more than a dozen species of other fungi found growing in bat caves in the eastern U.S. What they found, first and foremost, was that the pathogen was not quite what everybody thought it was.

Scientists have called the disease Geomycetes destructans since it was identified in 2009. But the recent research, described in the journal Fungal Biology, indicates that the fungus is actually a member of the genus Pseudogymnoascus. Hence, it has been reclassified P. destructans.

Of the other species of Pseudogymnoascus fungi sampled in the studied hibernacula, the scientists reported that none were closely related to P. destructans. That’s significant, because it suggests that white-nose syndrome arrived in New York from some other part of the world, perhaps on the shoes of a traveler or shipped in as a few spores with freight.

Researcher Andrew Minnis said the study is part of a wider effort to find a way to protect bats from the fungus. “Once key elements of this [fungus] species’ biology, including mechanisms of pathogenicity, are identified, it will be possible to target them,” he said.

Once it was realized that many related fungi were present in bat caves, but weren’t killing bats, “thoughts arose that these species could be used for comparative purposes — to understand why P. destructans is different,” he said. Following the findings from this study, “further and more informed comparative work can now be performed.”

Confirmed and suspected white-nose syndrome cases. Map updated August, 2013 by the U.S. government.
Confirmed and suspected white-nose syndrome cases. Map updated August, 2013 by the U.S. government.

Forests pump carbon into soil

By John Upton

Photosynthesis is easy enough to understand: Plants use the power of the sun to combine carbon dioxide and water into sugar. What’s perhaps less easy to understand is what happens to all of the carbon-rich sugar that it produces. New research shows that vast amounts of it are pumped down to fungi deep in the ground, keeping the carbon out of the atmosphere and keeping the climate cool.

Some of the energy-rich sugar is shipped around the plant to power cells, and then is often eaten by herbivorous animals or flutters to the ground with fallen leaves to be gobbled up by microscopic organisms. But some of the sugar is pumped down to the roots and traded with mycorrhizal fungi in exchange for nutrients.

The mycorrhizal fungi take the sugar from the plants, and in return they feed nutrients to the plants. Fungi send stretching tentacles, called mycelia, through the ground to forage for nitrogen, phosphorous and other nutrients that are valued by the plants. They use those nutrients as currency with which they buy sugar.

Illustrated by Perry Shirley.
Illustrated by Perry Shirley.

The sugar that’s passed from the plant to the fungi contains lots of carbon, which the plant originally sucked out of the air as carbon dioxide. Scientists have discovered that most of the carbon that’s stored in some forest floors is sequestered in the bodies of the dirt-dwelling fungi — not, as had been presumed, in the decomposing leaf litter.

Karina Clemmensen, a researcher at the Swedish University of Agricultural Scientists, led research that investigated where carbon was being stored in two forested Swedish islands. The researchers discovered that 50 to 70 percent of stored carbon in the forests was locked up in the root layer, where the mycorrhizal fungi thrive.

The research took place in boreal forests, but Clemmensen said other ecosystems might also push much of their carbon down into the soil.

“In agricultural fields, arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi are normally the dominant mycorrhizal type,” Clemmensen said in an email. “Our result though – as stands here – is valid for the boreal forest only.”

Fungus helped create us, could destroy us

By John Upton

In a story about plagues of fungus diseases that I wrote for Slate’s pandemics series, I touched on fungi’s role in the rise of the mammals.

The last great extinctions occurred 65 million years ago, when land-dwelling dinosaurs disappeared and mammals began an ascent that eventually led to our own evolution. The dinosaurs were doomed when the Earth clouded over with smoke. The darkened world grew cold, reptiles were unable to bask effectively and plants struggled to photosynthesize. While other kingdoms of life flailed, fossil records indicate that fungi flourished.

Illustrated by Perry Shirley.
Illustrated by Perry Shirley.

Fungi are the world’s great decomposers, and during periods of environmental upheaval they can become savagely pathogenic, feasting on the living flesh of the weak. But fungus does not grow well in hot conditions. In 2005, Arturo Casadevall suggested that the rise of fungus during the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event selectively killed off cold-blooded dinosaurs and gave warm-blooded mammals the opportunity to prosper. In August, the Albert Einstein College of Medicine professor published a followup paper in PLOS Pathogens that expanded and built upon his theory.

“Mammals are highly resistant to systemic fungal diseases,” Casadevall wrote in the paper.

Not a real dinosaur / Kamala Kelkar
Not a real dinosaur / Kamala Kelkar

“Primitive mammals like the platypus, with core temperatures near 32°C, are susceptible to Mucor amphibiorum, a fungus with a maximal thermal tolerance of 36°C that would make it avirulent for higher mammals. The resistance of mammals to fungal diseases is in sharp contrast to the vulnerability of other vertebrates, such as amphibians, a group that is currently under severe pressure from a chrytrid. Like mammals, amphibians have adaptive immunity, but unlike mammals, they are ectotherms and lack a thermal environment that is exclusionary to fungi.”

Casadevall tells me he’s more confident now in his theory than he was when he first described it seven years ago. That’s partly because of a study that he co-authored in 2010 that indicated that the human body temperature is almost ideally optimized for warding off fungal diseases while maintaining metabolic needs. He said the spread of white nose syndrome, a soil fungus that in North America has killed millions of hibernating bats, whose temperatures plummet during winter, provides additional support for his theory.

“People have been intrigued with the fungal-mammalian hypothesis,” Casadevall told me. “There has been no significant pushback.”

In his new essay, Casadevall says global warming could help fungi adapt to warmer temperatures, potentially reaching a point where pathogenic species could develop newfound abilities to infect warm-blooded mammals. Such a development could be disastrous for humanity, as I explain in Slate.

[To join a LinkedIn group devoted to the discussion of fungus diseases, click here.]

Mushrooms make it rain in the Amazon

By John Upton

It’s not enough for mushrooms to simply produce spores. A little more than one-third of the world’s known fungal species, including mushrooms, puffballs and rusts, use a neat canon-ball trick that sends those spores sailing through the air toward newfound territory.

Clouds forming over the Napo River, Peru / Flickr: Photographer 23

This trick relies on the detonation of a fluid-filled sac to send so-called ballistospores airborne. It turns out that this neat trick not only helps fungus spread: Scientists recently discovered that these explosions may help keep the rain falling over the Amazon rainforest.

Water cannot condense into a rain drop unless it has something solid, a “seed,” to grow around, such as a speck of dust or a grain of pollen. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researchers searching for the seeds that help clouds form in the Amazon think they have found what they were looking for.

They reported in Science late last month that potassium salts coalesced with organic material to form the seeds that create the Amazon’s clouds. Based in part on an abundance of ballistospores in the atmospheres, the researchers think the salts are squirted out when these spores are ejected from fungus during the night.

“The source of potassium could only have been natural forest organisms,” researcher Mary Gilles said in a press release published by the Lab on Monday.

Fungi are already known to play a critical role in breaking down old wood and leaves on the forest floor, recycling the nutrients and making them available for plants and animals; and now it appears that they also help to keep the Amazon wet and rainforesty. A pretty neat trick.

Mushrooms form ballistospores in their gills / Flickr: jo-h

Fungus-infected forests heat the planet

By John Upton

Forests suck carbon dioxide out of the air. They use solar energy to combine the carbon dioxide with water droplets to form sugars that fuel plant growth. During that chemical reaction, known as photosynthesis, waste oxygen is released back into the air.

So the effects of widespread deforestation by lumberjacks and bulldozers are relatively easy to understand. Less forests means more carbon dioxide, which heats the planet, and less oxygen for us to breathe.

New research has revealed that deforestation can take an even more sinister turn when it’s performed by a fungus. Fungal pathogens and fungus-like diseases are stealthily felling forests across the world. Forests at Big Sur disappeared in less than a decade after sudden oak death moved onto their turf. Cypress canker, native to California, is destroying trees across Europe. Dutch elm disease has forever changed the landscape on the East Coast.

Trees in Yale Myers Forest, CT, may look healthy, but many are rotting from the inside. Heart rot fungus breaks down the wood into substances that are consumed by bacteria, which further break the material down into methane. / Flickr: morrowlong

These symptoms of a sick planet do more than merely strip the earth of some of its greatest carbon sponges. Scientists have discovered that fungus disease can cause some of the wood in infected trees to break down not into carbon dioxide (CO2), but to break down anaerobically with the assistance of bacteria into methane (CH4), which is a far more potent and damaging greenhouse gas.

The university researchers measured methane levels in Connecticut woodlands infected by heart rot, a fungus disease, and reported in the journal Geophysical Research Letters that concentrations were so high in some places that it was flammable. Methane concentration in the air is normally less than 2 parts per million, but the researchers discovered levels in some trees that reached more than 160,000 parts per million. The average methane concentration in the forest was 15,000 parts per million.

The ailing forest was releasing enough methane to counteract the climate-cooling benefits of nearly one-fifth of the carbon dioxide it was absorbing, researchers calculated.

The researchers point out that their study covered just one forest, and one type of fungus disease. This particular disease is unique in that the trees often appear outwardly healthy while they rot away from the inside. But they warn that other fungal diseases that are laying waste to woodlands around the world could have similar effects.

“I think it’s fair to say that wood-rotting fungi in general could lead to this effect,” lead researcher Kristofer Covey, a Ph.D. candidate at Yale University’s School of Forestry, told me. “It’s hard to say if more aggressive fungal pathogens could lead to further emissions or not.”

Now is a terrible time to be losing forests. They are needed to help soak up all the carbon we’re pumping into the atmosphere when we burn fossil fuels. So this discovery comes as a double-whammy: Not only are we losing carbon-storing forests to fungus, but the fungi are taking carbon that had been stored in the trees and helping to turn it into a particularly potent greenhouse gas that further accelerates the rate of climate change.

The discovery offers one more reason to protect our forests from fungus diseases. Unfortunately, the problem has become so rampant that there is very little that we can do about it.

Frog-attacking fungus flourished before mass extinctions

Mountain yellow legged frogs of the Sierra Nevada might join the list of species that have disappeared due to the fungal pathogen B.d. / Flickr: USFWS Pacific Southwest Region

By John Upton

Scientists had never encountered anything like it.

Discovered in the late 1990s by researchers trying to figure out why frog populations were disappearing around the world, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, or B.d., has already wiped out perhaps 200 to 300 amphibian species. It has shaken ecosystems, starving birds and other frog eaters and allowing insects to run rampant.

“We have something the world has never seen before,” Vance Vredenburg, a biology professor at San Francisco State University who specializes in amphibians, told me earlier this year. “It’s jumping from species to species to species.”

The recent discovery that chytrid was present in New England in the 1960s, three decades before the disease’s effects were noticed, points to the alarming possibility that the die-offs are the result of worldwide environmental degradation.

B.d. is a type of chytrid — a member of the most primitive division of fungus: Chytridiomycota. Toadstools, molds and all of the other forms of fungus evolved from chytridiomycotes. Chytridiomycotes today are the smallest and simplest type of fungus, but these wily grandfathers still pack one helluva punch.

Before a frog is infected, it is hunted down by swarms of tiny chytrid zoopores that propel themselves through the water by flapping their tail-like flagella. The pathogen changes shape and burrows into the frog’s skin, which it consumes while it creates more zoospores, causing the frog to grow more layers. Many species can tolerate the parasites at low doses, but once a frog’s skin is infected with enough of the fungus it will go into cardiac arrest, its electrolyte levels thrown out of balance and its tiny heart stopped. (Weirdly, some species, including the American bullfrog, appear completely immune.)

“We find literally hundreds, and tens of thousands — I’ve seen it myself — dead animals on the shorelines of lakes,” Vredenburg said.

Research led by University of California, Berkeley ecologist Jamie Voyles helped explain how the fungus kills. What’s less clear is why it apparently started to cull amphibians all around the world at about the same time.

B.d. under a microscope / Flickr: AJC1

Kathryn Richards-Hrdlicka, a doctoral candidate at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, took samples from 10 species of amphibians preserved in formalin at the Peabody Museum of Natural History. She reported Tuesday in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution that the fungus was infecting frogs in New England as long ago as 1968, the year in which one of the oldest of the studied specimens was collected.

“It’s possible dieoffs did happen back then and no one noticed, although die-hard herpetologists around here tell me someone would have noticed,” Richards-Hrdlicka told me. “I think it’s possible that when B.d. came to New England, it may have wiped out the more susceptible lineages or gene pools and what we’re left with today are those gene-pool winners.  That may explain why I can pick up 10 frogs here and three to four of them will be infected, with light zoospore loads, and show no signs of infection.”

Alternatively, rampant world trade could have brought two chytrid strains into contact that merged to spawn a super pathogen, as other B.d. researchers have hypothesized.

But Richards-Hrdlicka also said that the changing environmental conditions facing all species around the world right now might simply make frogs more vulnerable to the chytrid than they were in the past.

And there’s the rub. When frogs were disappearing without explanation in the 1990s, many speculated that the chordata class amphibia was acting like a canary in a coal mine, dying off before other types of animals because they are so sensitive to their environment.

The discovery of B.d. muted that suspicion, but now we know that B.d. was present long before these prominent collapses. Previous studies showed it was lurking in Africa in the 1930s.

Fungus is the great decomposer. When animals and plants are stressed, their defenses weaken and they can be eaten alive by fungus, which treats its prey as though it is dead flesh awaiting decomposition. So perhaps the mystery of the disappearing frogs really can be traced back to just about everything that is out of whack with our environment: Climate change, pesticides, habitat loss, water diversions, water degradation, air pollution, you name it.

Scientists had never encountered anything like B.d.

Until 2006.

That’s when bats in a cave in New York started dropping dead from white nose syndrome. Since then, the disease, which is caused by a type of soil fungus that chews through the mammals’ wings, has spread rapidly west, killing an estimated 7 million hibernating bats in just six years.

“That’s really similar,” Vredenburg said.

Fungus thriving, worms waning, after BP oil spill

By John Upton

Fungus has a remarkable ability to thrive when the environment is stressed, allowing it to prey upon animals and plants when those forms of life are weakened. When the Permian period ended with a climate-changing bang 250 years ago, courtesy of volcanoes or perhaps a meteorite, soil fungus overwhelmed the world’s forests. Fungus diseases today are wiping out hundreds of species of frogs and millions of bats, not to mention entire forests.

New research shows that this mysterious kingdom of life is also thriving in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Scientists studied microscopic life in polluted shoreline sands around Alabama. They compared their findings to the results of surveys taken before the spill and found a sharp reduction in the number and diversity of microscopic animals, replaced by a spike in fungus.

“Our data suggest considerable (hidden) initial impacts across Gulf beaches may be ongoing,” the researchers report in a June 6 paper in the journal PLoS ONE, “despite the disappearance of visible surface oil in the region.”

Tiny sediment-faring worms known as nematodes were heavily affected. Scores of different types of nematodes used to make their homes along the gulf’s floor and it shorelines. But the researchers discovered that these benthic communities are now hospitable for just a handful of nematode species, mostly scavengers and predators.

The fungus that has taken over the oily sand is dominated by species that have a knack for breaking down hydrocarbons. Fungus is the world’s great decomposer and perhaps things will return to normal after the gulf’s new microscopic rulers have converted BP’s disgusting mess into something a little more palatable for the displaced members of the animal kingdom.

Research results