#22 A Fungal Electrical (Human) Language, Biomolecule Mixing and A Possible Cactus Extinction...
How biomolecules communicate and adapt to environmental changes, how fungi use an electrical language to communicate and the potential risk that cactus face with the possibility of extinction...
🗣️How Biomolecules Communicate
Communicating, interacting and adapting to their environment…
An important step has been made in understanding the interactions and function of complex mixtures of biomolecular building blocks that are able to form self-organized patterns. The discovery, made by post doctoral researcher at the CUNY Graduate Centre provides new knowledge into adaptive biological functions, which could be key in designing novel materials and technologies with similar abilities.
"All life forms start with the same conserved sets of building blocks, which includes the 20 amino acids that make up proteins,” said Ankit Jain, a member of CUNY ASRC Nanoscience initiative. He went on to say that figuring out how these mixtures of molecules communicate, interact and form self-organizing patterns would enhance our understanding of how biology allows and creates functionality. As a result, this understanding could be hugely beneficial in future biotechnological applications and the creation of new materials.
The synthetic approach allows the complex biomolecule mixtures to interact and collectively adapt to changes in their environment. The research took place in a test tube which removed the issue of molecular organization and structures within the existing system (biological cells). The team then tracked and observed the emergence of complex patterns emerging in response to environmental changes.
“Complex mixtures of interacting molecules are fundamental to life’s processes, but they are not commonly studied in chemistry labs, because they are messy, very complicated and difficult to study and understand,” said Ulijn, the lab's Director. “Systematically designing mixtures and tracking their behaviour allows us to make fundamental observations about how mixtures of molecules become functional collectives. We were able to detail how these chemical systems absorb changes in external conditions to form specific patterns of build-up and breakdown. We also discovered that systems with so many variables show a stochastic behaviour, so while overall pattern formation looks similar when running multiple experiments, the precise details in two independent experiments are different.”
The experiment began with the mixing of a number of selected dipeptides (minimalistic protein compounds composed of two amino acids). These sets of dipeptides contained a catalyst that enabled the dipeptides to recombine and form peptides with more complex interaction patterns. One example of this within the study was a complex system that began with 15 different dipeptides which then reversibly combined to form 225 unique tetrapeptides. Jain and the team were then able to track the breakdown and formation of peptides of different sequences within the mixtures. He noticed how their interactions were strongly dictated by environmental conditions.
Being able to show the molecular self-organization through hierarchical patterns of both covalent and non-covalent interactions is key to understanding how biological functions are relevant to life emerge. This work shows that the mixtures of simple molecules demonstrate spontaneous sequence selection which provides insights into the chemical origins of biological function. The design of adaptive systems based on multi-component mixtures is likely to lead the discovery of how patterns dictate the formation of bioinspired technologies.
🔌The Electrical Language
How Fungi Use An Electrical Language to Communicate…
Communication in multicellular animals involves highly specialised cells in a connected network - the nervous system. Through this system distinct impulses and electrical potentials help the organism to detect their environment and respond accordingly. Whilst fungi lack this nervous system they still transmit information using electrical impulses. They do this through thread like filaments called hyphae.
These filaments form a thin web called a mycelium which links fungal colonies within the soil. These networks are remarkably similar to the animals nervous systems. Through measuring the frequency and intensity of these impulses it may be possible to understand communication within and between organisms. Dr Adamtzky, computer scientists and the Unconventional Computing Laboratory of the Unviersity of the West of England, recorded the rhythmic electrical impulses transmitted across the mycelium of four different species of fungi.
Through mathematical comparisons between the patterns of these impulses (amplitude, frequency and duration) with those typically associated with human speech, the researchers were able to form the basis of a fungal language that comprised of roughly 50 words. The complexity of the "languages" used by the different species of fungi appeared to differ, the split fungus is believed to have one of the more complicated lexicons of those tested.
This therefore raises the possibility that fungi have their own electrical language to share specific information about relevant abiotic factors as well as potential sources of danger or damage.
Mycorrhizal fungi are a near invisible thread like fungi that form intimate partnerships with plant roots with extensive networks int he soil that can connect to neighbouring plants. Plants typically benefit from these associations by having access to nutrients and moisture supplied by the fungi from the tiniest pores in the soil. This therefore expands the area that they can draw sustenance form and in return the plants transfer sugars and fatty acids back to the fungi.
Experiments using plants connected by just this mycorrhizal fungi have shown that when one plants is attacked by insects, the defence response of other plants is activated. This hints at the warning signals being transmitted via the fungal network. Exactly how these underground signals are transmitted remains a matter of debate.
One possibility is that the fungal connections carry the chemical signals from one plant to another within the hyphae themselves, in a similar way to how the electrical signals featured in the new research are transmitted. Another being that the signals are dissolved in a film of water held in place and moved across the network by surface tension. Alternatively microorganisms could be involved, Bacteria in and around the fungal hyphae might change the composition of their communities or function in response to changing root chemistry.
This recent "discovery" could not be linked to communication at all. The rhythm of electrical pulses also shows a degree of similarity to how nutrients flow along fungal hyphae and so could reflect processes within fungal cells that are not directly related to communication. The rhythmic pulses of nutrients and electricity may reveal the patterns of fungal growth as the organism explores its surroundings for minerals or nutrients.
🌵The Cactus May Not Be Safe
Cactus could be at greater risk as a result of climate change…
Even the cactus, well known for its fondness of both heat and aridity may be reaching their limits as the planet grows hotter and and drier over the coming decades. The recent study estimates that by the mid-century, global warming could put near 60% of cactus species at greater risk of extinction. Furthermore this forecast doesn’t take into account habitat destruction, poaching or other anthropogenically induced threats that currently make cactuses one of the most endangered groups.
Most cactuses are adapted in some form to the climate and environment in which they live. Even a slight change may be too much for them to adapt again, over such a short time scale.
Not all cactuses fit that desert stereotype. Many live in cooler climates at higher altitudes or in rainforests. Many rely on rainwater and dew for their survival. One example being the moonflower cactus. This spirals around a tree trunk high above the ground, so that it is above the water line when the forest floods which allows the water to disperse seeds. The niche requirements for many species of cactus is what makes them so vulnerable to climate change, as well as a host of other threats.
“If you only find it in a very small area, and someone comes and plows it out to grow whatever they want to grow, the whole population disappears,” said Bárbara Goettsch, one of the authors of the study and a chair of the Cactus and Succulent Plants Specialist Group at the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
The study focuses on 408 cactus species, roughly a quarter of all known cactus species, predicting how their geographic range could shift under three different possible trajectories for global warming this century. However, the results did not drastically vary between pathways as predicted. Even if the planet only heats modestly, many species could experience declines in the amount of territory where the climate is hospitable to them.
Overall the study predicts that 60% of cactus species are expected to suffer declines of any magnitude and 14% could suffer steep declines. Just one of the species was projected to experience a substantial increase in range. Three areas where the threat could be most visible would be Florida, Central Mexico and Brazil. Those species that are intertwined with trees do especially poorly. One point worth noting is the difficulty in assessing cactus health. This is due to the fact that they have limited "features" to test. They don't have leaves and so assessing the effect of climate becomes more difficult. Furthermore, the study does not account for extreme events such as droughts, wildfires or any other natural disaster.
Climate and biodiversity researcher at the National Institute for Space Research in Brazil who did not work on the study stated that “Species either adapt or they will go extinct,". “As adaptation is a slow process and current climate change is occurring rapidly, it is likely that many species will be lost.”
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🗣️How Biomolecules Communicate
Jain, A., McPhee, S., Wang, T., Nair, M., Kroiss, D., Jia, T. and Ulijn, R., 2022. Tractable molecular adaptation patterns in a designed complex peptide system. Chem,.
🔌The Electrical Language
Adamatzky, A., 2022. Language of fungi derived from their electrical spiking activity. Royal Society Open Science, 9(4).
🌵The Cactus May Not Be Safe
Pillet, M., Goettsch, B., Merow, C., Maitner, B., Feng, X., Roehrdanz, P. and Enquist, B., 2022. Elevated extinction risk of cacti under climate change. Nature Plants,.