60-Second Science

Mushrooms Create Their Own Breeze

Mushrooms can make a slight spore-dispersing breeze to spread their genetic material even if the air is calm. Katherine Harmon reports

Mushrooms must scatter their spores to make little mushrooms. And we've long assumed that they rely on a friendly breeze for spore spreading. But a new study shows that mushrooms can create their own spore-casting wind.

Fluid mechanics researchers trained high-speed video cameras on common Shiitake and oyster mushrooms. The scientists discovered that the mushroom spores floated off even when the air was calm. They enlisted mathematical models to solve the mystery.

Turns out that before the spore dispersal, the mushrooms released water vapor. This moisture cooled the air around the 'shroom, causing a convective dynamic that got the air moving. Just this faint fungal breeze was enough to carry the spores away from the parent. The findings were presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Physical Society's Division of Fluid Dynamics in Pittsburgh. [Emilie Dressaire, et al., " Control of Fluidic Environments by Mushrooms "]

This discovery suggests that mushrooms aren't simply in a race to produce the most spores. Evolution also engineered a good way to spread them.

—Katherine Harmon

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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