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Glow-in-the-Dark Mushrooms Are a Blacklight Poster Come to Life

Mother Nature may be timeless, but some of her creations seem kind of, well, dated. Take bioluminescent fungi, for example: funky fluorescent figures that look like they popped right out of a blacklight poster from 1996. Check out the timelapse video below from Planet Earth II for more glowing weirdness and read on for an explanation (as much as something like glowing mushrooms can be explained).

Glowing mushrooms are not a new phenomenon. Both Aristotle and Pliny the Elder wrote of the “foxfire” produced by mushrooms on rotting logs. So far, scientists have discovered 81 different species of bioluminescent fungi. They appear across the globe and take all kinds of weird shapes, but they always emit the same eerie green light.

The precise purpose of that green light remains to be seen. Bioluminescence is kind of the Swiss army knife of natural skills. Some animals use it for hunting, while others use it to hide. Others light up to find mates and reproduce. Glowing fungi could be doing any of these things. Some glowing species are edible, and it’s possible that they’re using their light to attract nocturnal insects who will eat them and scatter their spores. But they might also be using their light for protection, by luring in predators of mushroom-eating insects or by advertising their toxicity. It’s also possible that glowing is simply a byproduct of their natural chemical processes. We really don’t know. The mushrooms remain a mystery.

[h/t Sploid]

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Paul Mannix, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0
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Animals
Scientists Improve Drug Safety—for Penguins
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Paul Mannix, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0
Penguins are adorable. Their infections are a lot less cute. Fortunately, scientists may have figured out how to safely knock out at least one deadly fungal disease. The researchers published their findings in the Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine. Fungi in the genus Aspergillus have all kinds of strange talents. They turn up in the pantry as black mold—and in the refrigerator, as key ingredients in soy sauce and lemon-flavored drinks. Some enzymes derived from these fungi can help people with celiac disease digest gluten. But others can also make people and other animals, including penguins, very, very sick. Avian aspergillosis can lead to chronic and acute respiratory infections. The disease strikes wild and captive birds all over the world, but is especially common among African penguins in zoos, refuges, research centers, and aquaria. For a while, those penguins were treated with a medication called vitraconazole. Then the fungus evolved a resistance. There's another option: a second drug called voriconazole, which has been used successfully to cure aspergillosis in other birds. But penguins aren't other birds. They've got their own peculiar bodies and metabolisms. A dose that's good for the goose may be too much for the penguin. To determine how much voriconazole a penguin should take, researchers enlisted 18 penguins at a New Jersey aquarium in two separate trials. They tried the birds on various dosing schedules and quantities, then tested their blood plasma to see how their bodies absorbed the drug. The scientists then took all that information and fed it into a computer model, which allowed them to calculate how quickly and efficiently the average African penguin could metabolize the medication. They arrived at a concentration of 5 milligrams per kilogram of penguin body weight, once a day. Lead author Katharine Stott is an expert in translational medicine at the University of Liverpool. "Although this project was a somewhat unusual one for our group," she said in a statement, "the problem it presents is common: how can we better understand dosing strategies to optimize the use of antimicrobial agents?" Stott noted that her group's methods could carry over into other small patients as well: "The project also dealt with an issue commonly faced when trying to design pediatric treatment regimens in that dosing requirements are not always proportionally related to patient size."
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iStock
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technology
Don’t Rely on an App to Identify Which Mushrooms You Can Eat
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iStock

Mushroom hunting is a dangerous sport. The differences between deadly and delicious mushrooms can be subtle and hard to spot, and it's not a verdict that should be left up to guessing. Earlier this year, 14 people in Northern California became sick after eating foraged "death cap" mushrooms, and three had to have liver transplants.

An app called Mushroom claims to be able to identify whether a mushroom is safe or toxic through artificial intelligence. However, as The Verge reports, experts say an app isn't a foolproof way to identify mushrooms, and users could be putting themselves in danger by relying on it.

Some mushrooms need to be touched and smelled to identify whether they are a truly safe-to-eat species or if they're a similar-looking toxic variety, a mushroom expert told The Verge. And artificial intelligence working solely off images won't be able to tell the difference. As one environmental scientist put it on Twitter, the app's shortcomings could have deadly results.

In response to the uproar, the app seems to have been edited to focus just on the lucrative practice of truffle-hunting. The new app's description is a confusing liability warning: "The app is intended for the general interest truffle hunter as a reference guide who is [sic] looking to hunt and sell truffles locally. The app is not intended for use when foraging for wild food and we strongly recommend you do not handle or consume wild mushrooms." In other words, use it as a reference guide if you want to sell truffles, but don’t eat them. While truffles aren't toxic, there are species of "false truffles" that are poisonous, so probably don't rely solely on artificial intelligence for those, either.

There are several other mushroom-hunting guide apps, but they mostly regurgitate information that you would find in books on the subject. Getting an illustrated guidebook is most experts' recommended method for safely foraging for mushrooms. So please, if you want to become a mushroom hunter, ditch the apps, hire a guide, take a class, or, at the very least, buy a good book. Don't simply trust the 'bots.

[h/t The Verge]

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