The evolution of magic mushroom to counter insect brains

The magic mushrooms are one of the most fascinating species and the curious thing about them is that the different species of magic mushrooms are not necessarily related to one another. The production of powerful and complex chemical like psilocybin, which is considered as magical ingredient, would be expected from closely knit group of the organisms however it’s not the case with this chemical. There are numerous mushroom species from the five different and distantly related families which make this chemical.

Understanding the evolution of magic mushrooms

The scientists studying this pattern, identified the genes that produce psilocybin and compared the different versions that were found in numerous magic mushrooms. These genes were found to share the same origin. The gene cluster of psilocybin somehow found the way to species that were distantly related through process which is called horizontal transfer of gene where the unrelated organisms steal the genes from each other.

Even though the fungi that makes mushroom is considered complex and sophisticated for fungal world, they have rarely found to be stealing or donating genes. The fact that there has been an exception for these particular genes shows that the psilocybin is hot and a special ingredient.

The surprising fact is that most of the recreational drugs that are naturally produced such as nicotine, caffeine, morphine, psilocybin and cocaine have evolved to be the scramblers of the insect brains, if not necessarily the insecticides. The fact that even the human brains enjoy the scrambling by these drugs is a testimony to the fact that our brains are not that different from the cockroach’s.

In human beings the psilocybin gets converted to the psilocin when it is injected. This leads to the activation of the receptors which are known for feel-good serotonin of neurotransmitter and it gives the wild effects or impact for which drug is known for. The serotonin reuptake inhibitor like Prozac incidentally act on the same molecule Serotonin. However here it is worth noting that serotonin is not the exclusive domain of humans as all the animals that have left-right symmetry including insects produce the chemical serotonin. The plants and fungi also produce the chemical serotonin.

As far as mushrooms are concerned, most of the mushrooms that produce psilocybin are either dung decayers or wood. In these surrounding they are not only competing and fighting with them for food but they are also getting eaten by the insects. The termites are massive competition for fungi inside the decaying logs but various other dung eating insects and wood fight with the fungi for food. Another receptor of serotonin antagonist also known as 5HT-2A causes the Drasophilia fruit flies to neglect eating the fruit that they are sitting on.

At least one chemical that makes the mushroom poisonous, muscarine, is made in same mushrooms that make the psilocybin in genus Inocybe which indicates that it has got similar purpose. Decay mushrooms aren’t necessarily the sole fungi that do the insect manipulation. Fungi that parasitize the insects are also known neurotransmitter mimicking  chemical for zombifying the victims.