Hidden from sight is the Kingdom of Fungi that rules life on land. It’s an alien world with the largest and oldest organisms alive today. It was fungi that made life possible on a barren planet and it was fungi that brought life back to Earth after the last mass extinction event.
Neither plant nor animal, fungi have been around since the dawn of Life. They ate rocks which made soil that allowed plants to colonize land. That changed the atmosphere sparking the evolution of animals. It was fungi that inherited the world after the last mass extinction event and brought life back on Earth. Fungi even paved the way for civilization – they have made us who we are.
Unlike plants, fungi don’t live on sunshine and air; they devour tissues, alive or dead. With powerful enzymes fungi break down and digest things nothing else can. Their untapped powers could help our species to survive in our increasingly poisoned, depleted and warming planet. Fungi are Nature’s grand survivors, the most resourceful and successful of life forms.
The science documentary The Kingdom – How Fungi Made Our World reveals, how fungi eked out life from barren rocks in hostile conditions and thrived despite facing the fercest wars of Nature. By understanding how fungi survive the continuous onslaught of a micro cosmos of voracious worms, predatory amoebas, bacteria, viruses and other fungi, novel drugs could be within our grasp. Fungi are being tested to treat cancer, Alzheimer disease, existential anxiety, depression and the next generation antibiotics. By looking at fungi in the context of evolution and natural history discoveries that will change our lives are being made.
The screening is on Thursday 25th October during the Faculty of Forestry and Wood Sciences programme.
The Kingdom – How Fungi Made Our World shows the forest as an interconnected system in which organisms communicate. LSFF 2017 awarded a film on a similar topic, Intelligent Trees, from LSFF 2014 we remember Super Fungi: Can Mushrooms Help Save the World? Do you think fungi is the next big thing and why is this topic so sexy for filmmakers?
Annamaria Talas: Yes, fungi are the new kids in the block! People are interested in fungi more than ever.
The film talks about yeast. During the evolution of the human species we are said to have developed the ability to degrade ethanol in order not to get drunk when we ate fermented fruit: blundering around a forest full of predators is not the best survival strategy. Remembering my Saturday morning hangovers I wonder – have we lost this ability in the meantime? How is it?
Annamaria Talas: No, not to get drunk – legally drunk, meaning you can do a breathing test and pass without a charge. It’s an important difference. The point is if you are drunk, you’ll be eaten by predators. The enzymes break down alcohol – an amount found in fermented fruits – so you are not even tipsy. We do have the same ability but we abuse it and we get drunk.
Fungi can be a great aide, but also a powerful enemy. Your film shows as an example the spread of fungal infection in Canada which killed several dozens of people between 2002 and 2005 – the culprit was Cryptococcus gattii originally from Australia. How is the spread of dangerous fungi related to global warming and could fungi really cause world epidemics?
Annamaria Talas: As it turns out the particular Canadian strain is originated in Brazil, but C.gattii is most well-known from the tropical north of Australia. The spread of fungal diseases relates to climate change in two ways: one is that change in weather patterns allowed C.gatti spores to be airborne and breathed in – therefore more people got infected as opposed to if they had just stayed in the soil. The other way is that as the climate warms, fungi that don’t live in 37 degrees – i.e. our body temperature – will be forced to adapt and will be able to live in high temperatures. That will open up for pathogenic fungi a whole new realm to invade – our bodies. That’s bad news for us because we are not prepared.
The Czech Republic is a nation of mushroom pickers – our passion to walk around the woods, collect edible mushrooms and turn them into soups and sauces is our unique national characteristic. How about Australians?
Annamaria Talas: Actually, I am Hungarian and we used to pick forest mushrooms too! I remember university field trip where we found whole hill sides with chanterelles. Australians buy mushrooms in grocery stores.