Scientists are using advanced genetic methods and behavioural experiments in a bid to uncover how mushrooms turn into magic and evolve psychedelic properties.
Compounds present in so-called magic mushrooms are increasingly being recognised for his or her potential to treat health conditions including depression, anxiety, compulsive disorders and addiction.
Nonetheless, scientists on the University of Plymouth say little is understood about how such compounds have evolved and what role they play within the natural world.
They’re using advanced genetic methods and behavioural experiments to deal with previously untested hypotheses into the origins of psychedelic compounds in fungi.
This includes examining whether such traits have evolved as a type of defence against invertebrates that feed on fungi, or whether the fungi produce compounds that manipulate insect behaviour for their very own advantage.
Within the Sixties, psychedelic compounds really got here to widespread public attention and that ultimately led to governments introducing latest laws to limit their use
Dr Jon Ellis
Dr Jon Ellis, lecturer in conservation genetics on the University of Plymouth, said: “Lately, there was a resurgence of interest in psychedelic compounds from a human health perspective.
“Nonetheless, almost nothing is understood in regards to the evolution of those compounds in nature and why fungi should contain neurotransmitter-like compounds is unresolved.
“The hypotheses which were suggested for his or her evolution have never been formally tested, and that’s what makes our project so ambitious and novel.
“It could also in future result in exciting future discoveries, as the event of novel compounds that may very well be used as fungicides, pesticides, pharmaceuticals and antibiotics is prone to arise from ‘blue-sky’ research investigating fungal defence.”
Dr Ellis added that there had previously been legal barriers to studying psychedelic compounds in nature that meant certain research had not been possible.
Within the Nineteen Forties and Nineteen Fifties, research examined the usage of LSD as a psychotherapeutic treatment for alcoholism and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Around that point, people became keen on fungi from an anthropological perspective – with Robert Gordon Wasson travelling to Mexico and witnessing the ritual use of it in religious ceremonies within the late Nineteen Fifties.
“Within the Sixties, psychedelic compounds really got here to widespread public attention and that ultimately led to governments introducing latest laws to limit their use,” Dr Ellis said.
“For a while, that also restricted the basic research that may very well be carried out.
“More recently, people have returned to that initial research and located that compounds equivalent to psilocybin can have psychotherapeutic advantages.
“Nonetheless, that has not addressed their evolution in nature, which is what makes the research we’re doing so exciting. I hope our project can change the general public perception of magic mushrooms.”
The project will particularly concentrate on psilocybin, commonly present in so-called magic mushrooms and chemically just like serotonin.
Researchers will examine psychedelic and non-psychedelic fungi and use DNA sequencing to check whether there may be a various animal community feeding on psychedelic fungi.
They’re using laboratory tests to analyze interactions between fungi and insects, and whether the fungi undergo genetic changes during attack and development.
The research may even examine the effect of psilocybin on the expansion of soil bacteria.
Dr Kirsty Matthews Nicholass, of the University of Plymouth, said: “Inside psilocybe alone, there are near 150 hallucinogenic species distributed across all continents except Antarctica.
“Yet, the fungal species wherein these ‘magic’ compounds occur are usually not all the time closely related.
“This raises interesting questions regarding the ecological pressures that could be acting to keep up the biosynthesis pathway for psilocybin.”
The research, which is funded by the Leverhulme Trust, may even involved using gene-editing technology to attempt to create mutant fungi that can’t synthesise psilocybin.
It’s being led by a team of researchers experienced in molecular ecology, animal-plant interactions and fungal biology within the University’s School of Biological and Marine Sciences.
Those involved have previously explored the genetic diversity amongst pollinators within the UK, the feeding preferences of slugs and snails, and developed an early warning system for plant disease.