Lightning Makes Mushrooms Multiply

By chillinwill · Apr 12, 2010 · ·
  1. chillinwill
    Lightning makes mushrooms more plentiful, according to ongoing research that offers a solid scientific basis for Japanese farming lore.

    For generations, Japanese farmers have welcomed storms over their fields based on the belief that lightning strikes provoke plentiful harvests of mushrooms, which are staples of Japanese cuisine.

    Currently, mushroom demand is so high that dealers are increasingly turning to foreign suppliers. Japan imports about 50,000 tons of mushrooms a year, mainly from China and South Korea.

    As part of a four-year study, scientists in northern Japan have been bombarding a variety of mushrooms in lab-based garden plots with artificially induced lightning to see if electricity actually makes the fungi multiply.

    The latest results show that lightning-strength jolts of electricity can more than double the yield of certain mushroom species compared with conventional cultivation methods.

    "We have tried these experiments with ten types of mushroom so far and have found that it is effective in eight species," said Koichi Takaki, an associate professor in engineering at Iwate University.

    "We saw the best effects in shiitake and nameko mushrooms, while we also tested reishi mushrooms, which are not edible but are used in certain types of traditional Chinese medicine," he said.

    Don't Fry the Mushrooms

    Takaki's team has been applying high-voltage pulses to logs seeded with mushroom spores to try to stimulate mushroom growth.

    Naturally occurring lightning can carry up to a billion volts of electricity, which get carried through the ground during a lightning strike.

    A direct hit with that much energy would fry the mushrooms. Instead, it's more likely mushrooms near the strike zone grow after being exposed to a weakened charge traveling through the soil, so the researchers have been using gentler bursts of electricity.

    Repeated tests have shown that the fungi react best when they're exposed to between 50,000 and 100,000 volts for one ten-millionth of a second.

    Given the right amount of electricity, the shiitake crop yielded double the amount harvested from logs not exposed to an energy burst. The amped-up nameko logs produced 80 percent more mushrooms.

    "The reaction of the mushrooms to this sudden burst of energy is initially to decrease the proteins and enzymes secreted by their hyphae, followed by a sudden increase," Takaki said.

    Hyphae are elongated cells that act like roots for mushrooms, anchoring the spores in the ground and taking in nutrients. The hyphae also give rise to new fruiting bodies, the fleshy, capped structures that produce spores and are harvested as crops.

    The reason for the hyphae's reaction to lightning is still being studied. But it's possible the mushrooms are giving themselves a reproductive boost in response to danger, said Yuichi Sakamoto, chief researcher at the Iwate Biotechnology Research Center, who has been working with Takaki's team.

    "For mushrooms, a lightning strike would be a very serious threat that could easily kill them off," Sakamoto said.

    "I think they have the need to regenerate before they die, and when they sense lightning, they automatically accelerate their development" and produce more fruiting bodies, he said.

    Lightning Also Sparks Radish Buds?

    Based on the successes so far, Takaki and Sakamoto think machines for delivering lightning-like bursts could become a boon to commercial farmers—although first the team needs to make the technology more user-friendly.

    "Right now, the equipment that we use to grow these mushrooms is very specialized and complicated, so I want to improve the design to make it easy to operate," Takaki said.

    "We want to collaborate with commercial mushroom farmers and eventually commercialize this technology."

    Takaki's team has also started similar experiments on daikon radishes, with early tests indicating that the species tends to bud earlier when exposed to artificial lightning.

    Lightning tests are being conducted at other institutions on rapeseed plants, beans, and some varieties of lily, Takaki added.

    Julian Ryall
    April 9, 2010
    National Geographic


  1. ianzombie
    Thats great news, Swim is already working on adding a lightning conductor to add to his terrarium and hopes to post a TEK later in the week.;)

    Thats a fantastic Picture with the article.
    Its storys and photos like this that has Swim so interested in Mycology.
    Thanks for sharing
  2. bcubed
    Are they certain the effect isn't the lightning "fixing" atmospheric nitrogen?

    Algal blooms also increase after electical storms, but that's all about lightning-generated fertilizer. fungi even benefit from nitrates?
  3. corvardus
    The experiements were undertaken in the lab rather than in the field. The probability of nitrogen fixing being the cause of the enhanced yield would be remote.
  4. Oxymorphone

    This I would HAVE to see ... from a distance of course. Just when I was thinking "a terrarium is such a safe controlled environment that I wish I lived in one" people start playing with electricity and charging a million volts into them.

    But really this is very interesting, whether it's a response reproductive mechanism or whatever other reasoning, I bet it does have some practical application. SWIM is halfway building a terrarium himself. Unfortunately he has been doing this for more than a year now. He can't find a few essential items to get things going. Spores, he's got, a couple strains, I hope they're still alive. Who'd have thought tapered jars would be the downfall of his mushroom cultivation. Nowhere within over a hundred miles has tapered jars. He could make substrate an easier way, but far less easy to monitor and for a beginner... well, SWIM doesn't want his buddies or himself eating some contaminated shroomies.

    Yeah, Tapered Jars. Is a rant in the midst of a conversation about the topic considered off topic? I suppose the rant had a little to do with the topic, so hm.
  5. fiveleggedrat
    Thank you so much for finding and sharing this. I read this on NatGeo a few days ago. Absolutely amazing that 50k-100k zaps can double yields in vivo!
  6. Charenton
    Fascinating, thanks for sharing. SWIM has often heard what he thought was an "old wives tale" about going to look for mushrooms after a thunder storm. SWIM imagined it was connected with mositure and air pressure issues.
  7. Alfa
    Aha. So I probably was right that liberty caps only pin in autumn due to frequently occurring lightning.
  8. Terrapinzflyer
    ^^ not so sure- liberty caps are plentiful in NW washington state as well in the fall- and lightning in many of the areas is quite rare. Seems to do more with the temperature and moisture...though lightning could surely have an effect on the flushes and yieldss
  9. KingMe
    swim is interested in the evolutionary reason for this to happen, as usually with lightning comes fire (bush fires?) so that would be an unfavorabe time to grow, no?

    Swim thinks maybe experimenting with more mushrooms is required, maybe this just happens in some species
  10. Terrapinzflyer
    ^^ no, not really- most lightening does not cause fires, though it does occur more frequently in high altitude and dryer climates. Mushrooms in general like moist climates- the areas prone to lightning caused fires tend to not be prime mushroom grounds, and vice versa.

    That said, morels are a prime example where my above statements are wrong- they love burned areas and the crops in montana after the big lightning caused fires (the late 90s early 2000s?) were incredible.
  11. corvardus
    SWIM does not believe there is a specific evolutionary strategy at work here. Just think on it having something evolved to take advantage of a 1 in 750000 chance of getting struck in any one year is remote in itself.

    It is more likely that the lightning has caused a chemical/enzymatic cascade resulting in the abnormal growth the consequence just happens to be beneficial in this case.

    To think on the lines of evolutionary advantage to not simply discount your suggestion would be that lightning often heralds a significant amount of water on the way.

    One could make the statement that the mushrooms are "detecting" the ionisation in the air and presumably taking advantage of that, I'd say again evolutionary pressures tend not to favour unlikely occurences so I would suggest a direct lightning hit is not required.

    It might be worth trying on a number of species. SWIM has the feeling that if it occurs in one species it would be probable that it would occur in quite a few.

    As with the ionising effects of lightning perhaps it might be an interesting experiment to use one of those air freshener things that send out streams of ionised particles in your growing area, see if there are any significant changes.
  12. Simple-Name
    Makes swim wonder if it has something to do with magnetism, our brains are electrical impulses flying around all the time, each body must have an electrical or magnetic field of sorts (In swims theory). (Thinking here how certain substances could actually change this field around the body/mind and whether those changes are permeable to the single trips or whether its a permanent altered state)

    If plants/mushrooms could have a similar electrical/magnetic make up somewhere or around them, extra energy could cause mutations no? Like this Swim guesses, mutations can't be a bad thing always.

    Cool stuff, nice article.
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