Evolution of the Mushroom Symphony

Psilocybes by Dzilam

The earliest suggested depiction of human mushroom use is represented in cave art found within the Tassili plateau in Southern Algeria, and is approximately seven thousand years old (Stamets, 1996). The artwork portrays a bee-headed figure with mushroom fruiting bodies for fingers, coupled with an outline also infused with fungal shapes. It has been suggested that the bee indicates that the mushrooms were preserved in honey during the Paleolithic times. All these things considered, one could further the idea that the psychoactive properties of certain mushrooms have been part of human knowledge for well over seven thousand years, which is in itself an interesting idea.

Nowadays, whilst our knowledge about mushroom biology has increased greatly over the past seven thousand years, our real understanding of the purpose behind the advent of psychoactive compounds, such as psilocybin, hasn’t shifted at all. We have many theories as to why, but none are particularly falsifiable, which can, if one is seeking an ultimate answer to this question, be both a hindrance and an encouragement. Moreover it could be said we are no closer to a satisfactory answer to this question than the Paleolithic person who painted the cave art in what would become Algeria seven thousand years ago; their guess is as good as ours!

Evolutionary biology is a subject that can be heretical to some, yet reality to others. What is for sure is that it is a subject of permanent fluidity, and nowhere is this statement more true than within evolutionary mycology. Evolutionary mycology is a subject that thrives, as does its subject matter, within the microscopic. Crucial differences lurk at mind-boggling magnification levels, which forever push the layman away as footnotes to the ongoing drama that unfolds. It’s best to just sit back and ride the information as it flows out from the laboratory, which we shall now do post-haste.

Recent studies, which saw research teams from the Guadalajara University in Mexico and the University of Tennessee combine, have succeeded in illuminating crucial genetical and morphological differences amongst species of mushroom that were once treated as components of the same genus: Psilocybe. This is in thanks to the work of Ramirez-Cruz, Guzman et al. (full pdf of research is to be found here: http://www.nrcresearchpress.com/doi/full/10.1139/cjb-2013-0070#.Uk1SEMY6NBg )

It is now considered that all Psilocybe mushrooms must contain the compound psilocybin, whose oxidation is responsible for turning the fruiting body blue when bruised by an impact, such as rough handling. All previously considered non-bluing members of Psilocybe were part of the genus Deconica. Prior to this research it had been thought that Psilocybe was a polyphyletic group (meaning that the group has similar characteristics, which must have evolved convergently, as both Psilocybe and Deconica were incorrectly thought to have had different common ancestors.) It can now be said that Psilocybe and Deconica exhibit synapomorphy (a trait that is shared by two or more taxa and inferred to have been present in their most recent common ancestor, whose own ancestor in turn is inferred to not possess the trait.)

Previous scientific investigations were based on analysing and comparing structures known as the basidiospore wall (a part of the fruiting body that produces spores and whose presence makes up the fungal phylum Basidomycota, within which Psilocybe and Deconica reside,) and the chrysocystidia (a large, and in this case, yellow-bodied cell located on the basidia, whose purpose is little known, yet whose presence can be used to indentify species, as cystidia colour and form are unique in both species and/or genus.) This allowed many of the Deconica species to be classified within the Psilocybe genus. This classification was originally ordered polyphyletically, but the study by Ramirez-Cruz, Guzman et al. has shifted the organization of the two genera into a monophyletical classification. The reason for this is that both genera in discussion do share a common ancestor in antiquity after all. For a practical example: the mushroom that used to be commonly known as the ‘mountain moss Psilocybe’ (Psilocybe montana), although having never been proven to contain psilocybin, was still was classified as a Psilocybe, can now be labelled by its more correct name: Deconica montana.

It may seem obvious that a Psilocybe mushroom should contain that famous compound which gives the genus its name, but it’s a very complex task to try and prove that a mushroom that is almost identical in morphology doesn’t appear in this or that particular genus. It is only by using modern DNA sequencing and detailed spore print analysis, coupled with support from previous works done on the subject, which gives confidence in allowing such a reclassification.

To put this into perspective: something happened to the common ancestor, which both Psilocybe and Deconcia evolved from. This ‘something’ gave rise to both lineages, which in some cases evolved in very similar ways, yet Psilocybe obviously began to manufacture psilocybin and Deconica did not. That biological stress which gave rise to the split, I feel, is the key to unlocking the reason behind the genesis of psilocybin. What is even more interesting is that many Deconica, such as Deconica montana, evolved within the presence of other certain Psilocybe mushrooms. This would indicate that the biological stress that forced the split, from their common ancestor, and thus established the two distinct new genera of Psilocybe and Deconica must have been localised.

I feel that such a bifurcation must of been born out of an ‘internal motivation’ within one of the two genera; one chose to produce psilocybin, the other chose decline this option. One thing we can be sure of is that complex compounds such as psilocybin are not fabricated without ‘good reason’, as evolution can only react in direct experience of a question posed to it by the surrounding area; evolution provides an answer, which as a corollary is inscribed with meaning, divulged from a continued will to exist. So the final cause of the genesis of psilocybin must have provided some kind of evolutionary advantage to the Psilocybe mushrooms to enable such an embarkation into the realms of organic chemistry.

Further ruminations can be extracted from the idea that psilocybin has evolved within 200 different species that span 13 separate mushroom genera (this, however, is a reflection for another day.)

Bibliography

Stamets, Paul . Psilocybin Mushrooms of the World. 1996. Ten Speed Press. Berkeley, California.

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14 Responses

  1. Brian Akers says:

    No offense once again – but psychedelia’s illicit adoption of evolution as a concept of interest, and its self-involved schmeorizing – without least clue about the science – is too close for comfort to ‘Scientific’ Creationism.

    I agree with one suggestion made above: ‘it would be good’ if evolutionary pseudoscience, whether of the old time religious right or new age post-McKenna psychedelia, if laymen would ‘just sit back.’ But ‘which we shall now do’ would describe the diametric opposite of the above explainifying, which is mostly inaccurate. As such it merely reflects the insistence of ideological ambitions in our era when it comes to evolution. On one hand, regardless which fringe is up to bat, the reach of such ‘theorizing’ exceeds its scientific grasp by a whopping margin. For ideological purposes, there seems a compulsion to try and seize or wrest the subject from science, make claims upon it, in some sort of ‘Junior Science Authority Theater.’ All for the choir to cheer and issue ‘hallelujahs.’ The power such big ideas as origins, and evolution wield over the human imagination and thought, seems a glittering prize to such ambitions.

    Science isn’t about what’s ‘obvious,’ nor is that a critical standard. It seems pretty clear from reading the work cited by Guzman and associates – the essay above gets a lot wrong about findings as reported. In general one must first understand something accurately, before being able to discuss it, even to summarize much less ‘boldly go’ into wild excesses of further schmeorizing.

    ‘Evolutionary Pseudoscience: Its Not Just For Creationists Anymore’

    I realize its merely convention now in the post-Terence state of psychedelia’s discourse, to put on airs of pseudoscience. Is there a good reason, one that would stand up to question, for such pretentious, self-impressed pattern – whether new age psychedelia, or old time religions? Its not as if the above is unique or unusual.

    But I submit getting info flat out wrong (as in the above), then taking things further out of perspective for an exercise in subcultural pseudoscience neotradition – is not a way of putting anything into perspective. To address one, only one, major anticlue in the above:

    “To put this into perspective: something happened to the common ancestor, which both Psilocybe and Deconcia evolved from. This ‘something’ gave rise to both lineages,”

    Wrong. Conclusions and results are clear (whether one understands meanings of words or not): “Deconica and Psilocybe do not have a sister group relationship, so their morphological similarities represent homoplasies.”

    Features in common between these two genera, as now resolved, did not result by evolutionary divergence from a common ancestor. The similarities (spore color etc) are not homology, they’re homoplasy. The DNA shows they are a case of convergent evolution, not divergent. Based on Guzman and associates, the features in common evolved in each, separately from the other. The two genera originated from different ancestors that did not resemble each other. Convergent evolution produces structural analogies between otherwise unrelated taxa, due to equivalent selective pressures acting on different species. That type process drives adaptation toward similar form and function. Its a well known phenomenon in evolutionary biology, with numerous examples – including these two genera.

    So, despite what I read above, contrary to the lively intrepretizing – there is not a common ancestor of Deconica and Psilocybe, in which ‘something happened’ causing it to bifurcate, diverge into two. Other way around, they came to resemble each other.

    But getting that wrong, apparently opens doors to surrealistic rhetorical possibilities. Its just first step to stuff like this:

    “I feel that such a bifurcation must of been born out of an internal motivation within one of the two genera; one chose to produce psilocybin, the other chose decline this option. One thing we can be sure of is that complex compounds such as psilocybin are not fabricated without good reason, as evolution can only react in direct experience of a question posed to …”

    Yes, fabrication is usually done for a reason. I wouldn’t call it ‘good’ but – actual opinions can vary.

    I submit conviction, certainty, belief in whatever misinformed schmeorizing – is not a standard of evidence, nor form of inquiry. One can be sure of many things, and still be not only dead wrong but flat out absurd. And that sums up a lot about the ‘intellectual’ value of psychedelia’s schmeorizing (of which the above seems but a minor example, however illustrative).

    Is there something wrong with understanding – even trying to understand – a technical scientific information, accurately and correctly? Especially if one means to extrapolate from it, as above? As if role playing as some ‘expert layman’ – with no more education in evolutionary biology than Terence McKenna (glorious founder of this tradition) had? Nor even knowing the critical vocab, what the key terms mean? If so, I’d like to know what.

    Alas our friends in ‘Scientific’ Creationism, who pioneered evolutionary pseudoscience, aren’t bothered by such discrepancies and glaring contradictions in their broadcast either. So name of the game is merely generating a narrative for psychedelia’s tastes and interests. The news may not suit tastes of subcultural fashion, or its ideological ambitions. Might not suit its purposes. But it is what it is – as they are what they are.

    But the pretense above of some sort of absurd pseudo-theorizing, trying to sound deep or profound, by head first dive into a pool without water, puerile ‘woo’ about – one genus choosing to produce psilocybin (not the other) – HUH? Does anyone have any idea, glimmer of clue – what kind of show that puts on? It seems a strange lack awareness, or self-regard, for the impression it creates. How strange to encounter such a lack of consciousness among enthusiasts of consciousness-expanding substances, for person use. The larger, more panoramic reflection s not merely on psypressuk, nor any individual, but on the subculture itself. Its evidence about psychedelia, ‘the consciousness movement’ or whatever – insofar as it typifies this sort of thing, as a pattern. Along with the other 360 degree angles of view, facets of psychedelia – this is precisely the sort of thing is that gives it an appearance of ideological zeal and intellectual bankruptcy, tinged with fanaticism.

    It occurs to me that, before flying off into the wild blue yonder, psychedelic ‘schmeorizers’ might (not saying they will, its merely logical possibility) – take a minimally intelligent, sensible step of contacting and inquiring of authors (of scientific papers) to see if one’s interpretations and understanding are correct and valid. Assuming any interest in knowing what the heck one is talking about, or at least not creating an appearance of pretense, that can only bring discredit and disrepute, furthering a negative impression in broad view. If not … never mind.

    This stuff is really something.

  2. Brian, in regards to the material provided, the simple revised lineage map (fig 5) from the cited study shows that both deconica & psilocybes have a common ancestor, the branch from where both 7 & 1 split off from, which has been slightly revised from what was previously thought (fig 3) (i interpret this in a way to try and please a readership, forgive me for not doing it in a way that suits you) . This also supports the idea of synapomorphy, which i define in the article to try and cover my back here. Both psilocybe & deconica where previously thought of as interchangeable species of one genus, they are now distinct. Hence why in the text i wrote that convergent evolution came into play, even though you seem to think i put it down as divergent and correct me for doing so. The homoplasy still is connected by the common ancestor & it is not as if these two mushroom genera are equatable to such a thing as the evolution of the eye, across the evolutionary landscape – we are talking about two closely linked mushroom species here. I go out of my way in the article to say that mycological evolution is extremely complex, and the poetic licence afforded to me to try and spruce up seemingly dry details must be taken with a pinch of salt outside of the context of the humanities. If you want cold hard facts, then go and read the myco journals . As for the other rather ad hominem incursions you put forward, most of them really are far wide of the mark when it comes to the people behind PsyPressUk & even further wider still when it comes to me. If all this rather ‘poetical’ interpretation of material gets you down, how about you simply just dont read it?

    • Brian Akers says:

      Re: “fig 5 … shows that both deconica & psilocybes have a common ancestor, the branch from where both 7 & 1”
      For me that clarifies the mix-up’s basis. Thank you for directing my attention, usefully for my understanding at least. Branch 7 you ref is indeed Psilocybe sensu stricto, genus level clade per this article. But branch 1 is a higher level. It consists of more than just Deconica, holds other genera traditionally grouped in Strophariaceae. Along with Psilocybe – but not anymore, by these findings.

      The fig 5 cladogram shows wide separation, not close relationship. It doesn’t show all the numerous species that would quickly over-populate distance in the figure between these two genera. All fungi have common ancestry. As does life on earth as a whole – somewhere however far back. But Deconica and Psilocybe s.str. are so far apart, apparently – they can hardly see each other. They’re both ‘good’ genera as newly defined. But they’re not even in the same family anymore, as formerly thought. Deconica remains in Strophariaceae. But Psilocybe is recognized now in the Hymenogastraceae (as it says).

      “to try and cover my back here … forgive me for not doing it in a way that suits you”

      I forgive you unconditionally, but my point is not to criticize you, more specifically mistaken interpretations that essentially turn the findings upside down, but rather to question and yes, correct. Contrition is fine, but without correction what purpose can it serve? I agree you try to cover your back there. What’s wrong with just getting the info straight? If you look at the figure alone, without correlating your interpretation with the written content, its easy to misunderstand. Especially if you’re not expert in reading cladograms, molecular biology, evolutionary theory, evidence and methods etc, in general. To err is human, what use incorrigibility? That’s the bigger more general question, and context. It goes to an entire subculture pattern, as I find, I’m sorry what and/or how I say comes off personal to you and Psypress, in fact I don’t find anything unrepresentative per se. Ref. your mention of ‘readership’ to ‘try and please.’

      “If all this rather ‘poetical’ interpretation of material gets you down, how about you simply just dont read it?”

      Nothing real ‘poetical’ to me Jim, just the usual pattern of pop psychedelia’s ‘news and info’ services, public service announcements etc. If you’re not concerned whether what you’re writing is accurate or just misinfotainment acting authoritative, throwing around vocabulary of cladistics, etc – no need to fret about getting me down. In fact from both awareness of complex social issues, to theoretical aspects in several disciplinary fields I actually find what’s going on at the subcultural level in our milieu interesting and relevant, as affects all kinds of things, many ways. A stream of active misinformation from certain patterned discourses like that of psychedelia, apparently protected from correction – as if it has no such intention – just makes me wonder what that’s all about. Especially beyond the ‘example’ level, to the whole pattern this seems to exemplify. Still if the specter of factual validity, clarity etc – the distinction of correct or not, integrity of purpose ultimately – bedevils, why wouldn’t you – how about – simply take minimal steps to ensure mere factual correctness? Wouldn’t that make sense? Is there place for any shred of it? So much mixup, so info-matically served, than defended so frantically – gives ‘the Brians’ so much to work with – for what purpose? I say, Give Them Nothing! Seems a no-brainer.

  3. psychicdeli says:

    While Brian has rather ran off with the critical baton with a rather too personal attack, he is right in that fact checking and even modest peer review would certainly help… I can give two easy examples that jumped out –

    “It is now considered that all Psilocybe mushrooms must contain the compound psilocybin, whose oxidation is responsible for turning the fruiting body blue when bruised by an impact, such as rough handling” – there’s no reference for this – I always thought it was the more unstable psilocin (not psilocybin) that oxidised and stained blue? … hence the need to preserve mushrooms high in psilocin (such as Psiclocybe cyanescens, which are named cyanescencs ‘because’ they stain blue) in honey (to prevent oxidation) while those with mostly psilocybin can just be dried – such as liberty caps (Psilocybe semilanceata)… and it’s certainly the right time of year for that..

    Similarly, “It may seem obvious that a Psilocybe mushroom should contain that famous compound which gives the genus its name” – and yet the name of the genus predates the discovery of psilocybin and psilocin by Hofmann, who called them such because of the mushroom genus they came from (and that they caused psi ;0) – not the other way around.

    While the idea that they were named psilocybin and psilocin because they induced psi (i.e., clairvoyance, telepathy, etc) is not strictly correct there is an interesting exploration of that notion here: Luke, D.P. (2006). A tribute to Albert Hofmann on his 100th birthday: The mysterious discovery of LSD and the impact of psychedelics on parapsychology. Paranormal Review, 37, 3-8.

    Anyway, a but of sharing before publishing can save some embarrassment and the dissemination of misinformation… it could also prevent the Brian’s of this world from getting soo excited… (which might be a shame, of course).

  4. Psychicdeli, psilocin is the phosphorylated version of psilocybin, and the bluing reaction, whilst being caused by an unknown process that parallels psilocin phosphorylation, will signify the presence of many chemicals. It can be logically, although not always 100% chemically accurate, to suggest that the bluing seen,whilst depending on handling times and the roughness involved, show that the the following chemical pathway is occurring: psilocybin – psilocin-unknown chemicals. P.semilanceata for example shows little bluing reaction yet is relatively high in psychoactive content . In my defence however, the article started of being only 500 words and it quickly doubled that size during its writing. I find it a constant struggle to please everyone in regards to what i put in & what i leave out. I thank you for the offer of proof reading in future, however Finally, in relation to your other point, i bow to your superior knowledge on the history of the genus name and will edit it accordingly.

  5. psychicdeli says:

    Jim think you may have that wrong. Psilocin is not the phosphorylated version, psilocybin is. Man you gotta do your homework!

  6. psychicdeli says:

    Also you point that “P.semilanceata for example shows little bluing reaction yet is relatively high in psychoactive content” doesn’t make sense, if you think that “the following chemical pathway is occurring: psilocybin – psilocin-unknown chemicals” is causing the blue staining, why does a mushroom like P. semilanceata not stain blue then if it has a high psychoactive (psilocybin actually) content? Go back to school,

  7. That is because the bluing reaction is due to ‘an unknown process that runs parallel’ to the oxidation of the psilo compounds. My resource for this quote is the Stamets book i cited. He also mentions that certain toxic mushrooms also exhibit the bluing reaction yet contain absolutely no psilo compounds. Im aware i cannot give you an answer to why these toxic mushrooms stain blue,.just as i cant explain why P. semilanceata doesnt stain blue so readily either. Maybe the whole bluing reaction isnt to do with the compounds in discussion at all? I think i should go back to university really, not school, if i wish to find out these answers for myself.

  8. *disclaimer* I will ruefully admit that ive dug myself a deeper hole by carelessly replying to you whilst in a hurry & getting my psilocybin & psilocins mixed up, then posting the uneditable comment without checking it first. I suppose this is my second lesson in not proof reading what i type adequately. I will get my mistakes edited once i have managed to get hold of rob . Thanks for pointing it out psychicdeli.

  9. psychicdeli says:

    Hi Jim, well like you I posted one of my comments in haste and without editing too… the go back to school comment should have been followed by a smiley face to show I was joking… but I had to serve dinner! … don’t let any of this put you off writing, I enjoyed reading your post and previous ones. I also found 3 liberty caps in my front garden this morning so there really is not ‘much room’ for pedanticity…

  10. thanks psychicdeli. I didnt take it personally, as i dont have a problem with criticism from peers. I just thought that you were being a tad unfair with your conclusions on the bluing reaction; to maybe try and expect too much detail from what was initially supposed to be an article providing a quick round up of (and on) the conclusions from the study cited by claiming the subject of psilocybin biochemistry as a subject where the facts are akin to chess piece colours, where in fact the reality is more ’50 shades of birmingham’ 😉 I expect nothing less from the scholars in the field than to point out where im going wrong with my writing however 🙂

  11. I’m afraid Brian is right, although he didn’t say it very nicely.

    This article uses incorrect interpretation of the Ramirez-Cruz paper to put forward a theory that is opposite to the evidence presented. Whether the theory is incorrect or not is pure speculation, but it is certainly not supported by the research of Ramirez-Cruz.

    Firstly, let’s distinguish as the authors do between psilocybe sensu stricto (s. str.) and psilocybe sensu lato (s.l.). Psilocybe s. str. refers to those mushrooms of the genus psilocybe that produce psilocybin only, whereas psilocybe s.l. includes both psilocybe s. str. and the wider group of mushrooms that apparently share other common morphology with the psilocybe s. str. taxon, but do not produce psilocybin – i.e. deconica and related species.

    The argument falters here:

    “Prior to this research it had been thought that Psilocybe was a polyphyletic group (meaning that the group has similar characteristics, which must have evolved convergently, as both Psilocybe and Deconica were incorrectly thought to have had different common ancestors.) It can now be said that Psilocybe and Deconica exhibit synapomorphy (a trait that is shared by two or more taxa and inferred to have been present in their most recent common ancestor, whose own ancestor in turn is inferred to not possess the trait.)”

    The first sentence states that it “had been thought” that psilocybin s.l. (since it refers to both deconica and psilocybe) was a polyphyletic group – with the implication that now, after the Ramirez-Cruz paper, it is not thought of a polyphyletic group, but rather a monophyletic group. This is directly opposite to what Ramirez-Cruz et al say:

    “Our results are congruent with those of Moncalvo et al. (2002), Walther et al. (2005), and Matheny et al. (2006) in that Psilocybe s.l. is a polyphyletic group.” p.588

    This is even under a heading “Psilocybe s.l. represents a polyphyletic assembly” – I’m not sure if this could be much clearer. Psilocybe s.l. is, and continues to be regarded as a polyphyletic group, not a monophyletic group.

    The quote from Ramirez-Cruz goes on:

    “We also confirmed the monophyly of Deconica and Psilocybe s. str.”

    This means that that both deconica and psilocybe s. str. are individually monophyletic clades, that is, groups that have shared morphology inherited from the group’s last common ancestor, and not shared with their more distant ancestors. But only individually.

    To quote from the Psypress article above again:

    “It can now be said that Psilocybe and Deconica exhibit synapomorphy”

    This is incorrect. As Brian has already stated, towards the end of the paper, Ramirez-Cruz et al say:

    “Finally, Deconica and Psilocybe do not have a sister group relationship, so their morphological similarities represent homoplasies.” p.589

    Psilocybe s. str. and demoniac do not show synapomorphy – the morphological similarities they possess are the result of convergent evolution (that is, homoplasies) – they have grown to be alike over many generations. Their most recent common ancestor does not possess any of the morphology they have in common.

    The differences between synapomorphy and homoplasy are clear illustrated on the wikipedia page – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synapomorphy

    Back to the Psypress article in question:

    “This classification was originally ordered polyphyletically, but the study by Ramirez-Cruz, Guzman et al. has shifted the organization of the two genera into a monophyletical classification. The reason for this is that both genera in discussion do share a common ancestor in antiquity after all.”

    No – the classification is still ordered polyphyletically, as is shown by the quotes from Ramirez-Cruz et al. The two genera are individually monophyletic, yes, but group them together and they are polyphyletic. They do share a common ancestor in antiquity – but this is trivially true in all cases. All mushrooms share a common ancestor somewhere in antiquity, as indeed do humans and all mushrooms, if you look far back enough. The more meaningful question is – do they share a common ancestor who possesses the same morphological characteristics they do? In the case of psilocybe s. str. and deconica, the answer is – no. They have achieved those similar characteristics through a process of convergent evolution.

    Therefore, the argument presented in the rest of this article is undermined. Nothing happened to a common ancestor to split deconica from psilocybe s. str. – because they only grew to be alike much later. The fact that they have grown via convergent evolution to resemble each other produces the illusion to us that they must have been alike in antiquity, and separated – but the data presented by Ramirez-Cruz et al suggests that is just that, an illusion.

  12. psychicdeli says:

    At least all this shows that people ARE reading your articles Jim…

  13. Yes certainly, im touched that my least read article has giving me the most amount of headaches. It proves that the service of rhetoric before fact checking has let me down in this case, as i have already stated in the above messages. Luke has already spelled out all the issues he had with my article to me in a private message & and i have replied with me reasons in turn. I can only thank him once again for reiterating what Brain has already posted earlier and for being such a joy to chat to in our private exchange.

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