Strain developement and Hybrid myths

Armillaria Mellea - the Honey Mushroom

The A. Mellea (Honey Mushroom) is an attractive and complex fungus with fascinating traits. It is an edible choice mushroom that is actually parasitic, attacking and killing trees. That is why the ATCC (American Type Culture Collection) designates the fungus as a pathogen and restricts its sale, requiring a special permit to get them. The Honey fungus has been discovered to be the largest living organism. Its underground mycelial body size was determined by linking forest shrooms by DNA testing. All the shrooms of a given strain are the product of the gigantic underground mycelial mass which has been found to be as large as 36 acres. But when the underground mycelial body is considered, it is far larger than 36 acres. Acres is a two dimensional figure (length and width). This does not include the third dimension - depth. Also, A. Mellea mycelium can be luminous when young and in a spreading mode.

Here is a quote from the college textbook "FUNDAMENTALS OF THE FUNGI" 4rth ed 1996 - Landecker, concerning research with A. Mellea.


Sympatic speciation involves the origin of species as a result of ecological, behavioral, or genetic barriers that arise within a single population. The barriers prevent gene flow between the populations, resulting eventually in the divergence of sympatic species. These species are unable to exchange genes even though they occupy a common habitat.

(edit - snip)

This is the case for the honey fungus Armillaria Mellea, which was classified as a single species. Mating experiments with isolates from North America and Europe revealed that a group of morphologically similar but biologically distinct species was designated as Armillaria Mellea --------

Monokaryotic mating and strain differentiation

In a dikaryotic mushroom like the cubensis, the spores germinate in monokaryotic form, with the genes being incomplete. To complete the gene set, the hyphae from the spores have to mate, and then it can produce fruitbodies. So if two monokaryon hyphaes are paired in vitro in the lab, and no mating of the hyphae (no clamp connections - no exchange of genes) is observed - then the two monokaryons are a different specie or spore race. If the hyphae from two spores connect and join (clamp connection), this is evidence that they are of the same specie, spore race or race strain. Lab work on this is very detailed and complex because in the cubensis, only one in four hyphae (spores) are compatabile, so many monokaryons must be tried (one in sixteen chance for mating). And add to that the reality that only a small percentage of cubensis spores actually germinate.

Genus - Specie - Race - Strain

These new findings have revealed something that many are beginning to see in the growing of the different Psilocybe Cubensis "races" that have appeared around the internet world. The word "race", newly coined by PF, is meant to replace the commonly used word, "strains". But "strain" is still applicable, but clarified to what it actually is.

When a spore sample of a given mushroom is germinated, the mycelium differentiates into types with different growing characterstics. These are the strains, that come from the spores. The strains can be seen in the fruitings themselves. For example, a cake with PF shrooms will have specimens growing next to each other or clumped on different areas of the cake that have a different look. The colors, the cap shape, speed of growth and even propensity towards bluing is varied. There can be even sterile strains in which the gills do not develope spores. These sterile strains are sometimes selected by growers because of the "cleaness" of shrooms growing without sporulating. A strain is selected by cloning, which is done by operating on the shroom, excising a tiny fragment of flesh and transplanting the fragment into a culture medium. The mycelium that grows from the fragment is a clone of the mushroom (identical genes) and when transplanted into growing medium, it will grow into a mushroom genetically identical to the parent.

The diverse spore races that PF sells are not strains. They are very different from each other and always grow that way. Each one is identifiable from each other with distinct characteristics. Because of this, there needs to be an update on the taxonomy of psilocybe cubensis. In Biology, organisms are identified as genus and specie. In psilocybe cubensis, the genus is Psilocybe and the specie is cubensis. But what about the different cubensis races? They fit like this:

race (complete genotype)
race strain (individual)

If a mushroom is cloned, that does not change the race. The race is in the spores but the strain is in the individual genes of the single mushroom fruitbody. If a spore print is taken from the clone and germinated, the race comes back with diverse strains in the mycelium. So therefore, a spore print is not a strain, but a race. And within the race are the myriads of strain possibilities.

Strain developement?

Strain developement is actually not a "developement" but more of a cultivation technique. Certain strains of a given spore race have better fruiting characterstics than others. This is because no strains are alike. So the cultivator selects these "better" strains to improve the yield or whatever seems to be in need of "improving". But what happens is that ultimately this so called "improved strain" goes to lunch. This degradation of the strain is called senescence. When this happens, the mycelium goes inactive and becomes a non fruiter.

Also, - spore atrophy sets in. When a fruitbody is cloned and then continually reproduced that way, the spore system is bypassed which eventually makes the whole system go dead. Even if the mushroom continues to sporulate, the spores become weakly germinatible and unfruitfull. The senescent spores can even become inert with no germination - a dead end. So one can not "develope" a strain, but only select it out. Strains apparantly can not be "improved". They are what they are and stay that way.


HYBRID - according to Websters New World Dictionary. -
"The offspring produced by crossing two individuals of unlike genetic constitution: specif., the offspring of two animals or plants of different races, varieties, species, etc."

The idea of hybridizing mushrooms has been jangled around for years. And apparantly, from the research and discoveries concerning the Armillaria Mellea mushroom, it is now scientifically proven that the idea of hybridizing different mushroom races or species is a myth.

The so called "hybridizing of fungi" is more like mating two selected strains. That would be possible, but then the result would still be the same specie and race and possibly a new strain, which is kind of absurd when strains are apparantly infinite. It would seem very possible that "strain hybrids" can occur. That isn't a HYBRID according to the definition (Websters New World Dictionary definition). But of course, when the spore print is taken, it is back to the full genotype spore race - with the strain or strain hybrid lost.

The research with A. Mellea has revealed the existance of these spore races which are unable to mate. The Mycologists describe this as "morphologically similar but biologically distinct species", or that these races are actually different species. This makes the taxonomy of the shrooms impossible and unworkable. But the idea of dividing the specie into spore races makes total sense. Instead of creating myriads of new specie names to designate these new spore races, the races just need to be specified in the taxonomy. For instance - Psilocybe Cubensis Equador - Psilocybe Cubensis Fanaticus - Psilocybe Cubensis Treasure coast ect. And in the case of the A. Mellea races, one can have: A. Mellea California - A. Mellea Europa or A. Mellea Japanensis ect.

In summary, this new knowledge about the unmatability of isolates of N. American and European honey mushrooms (Armillaria Mellea) shows that the theoretical hybridizing of A. Mellea is impossible. And when the clear differentiation displayed by the various races of available P. Cubensis is added to the mix, the hybrid myth is exposed.

Psylocybe fanaticus
January 1999