Nicholas Money and colleagues including 6 undergraduates and 3 graduate students, have measured the speed of flight of spores discharging from several Ascomycete and Zygomycete dung fungi including Pilobolus kleinii, Basidiobolus ranarum, Podospora anserina, and Ascobolus immersus. The team used high speed cameras that recorded at 250,000 frames per second and were able to capture spores being launched at 25 meters per second at accelerations of 180,000 g. The publication also provides multimedia including a video of the spore discharge slowed down and set to music. Nik and Mark Fisher both presented portions of the work at the Mycological Society of America 2008 meeting this summer and showed clips of these dramatic videos, so it was great to see this in print shortly following the meeting.
By way of the press release the major findings from this work show that
… the discharge mechanisms in fungi are powered by the same levels of pressure that are characteristic of the cells that make up the feeding colonies of fungi. Therefore, the long flights enjoyed by spores result not from unusually high pressure, but from the way in which explosive pressure loss is linked to the propulsion of the spores. There appear to be some similarities between the escape of the spores and the expulsion of ink droplets through nozzles on inkjet printers.
As Dr Money has described in a humorous and humble manner before in his Mr Bloomfield’s Orchard, some of the coolest and fundamental observations about spore flight and discharge, from Buller to the present, have come from simple and careful observations of fungi. In this case they have used a new tools of ultra high speed photography to capture events. Some of the previous work from the Money lab on this front include a demonstration that conidia are actively launched and rather than being passively released by low velocity airflow in the toxic indoor mold Stachybotrys (Tucker et al FGB 2007; free at PMC)
Yafetto L, Carroll L, Cui Y, Davis DJ, Fischer MWF,Henterly AC,, Kessler JD, Kilroy HA, Shidler JB, Stolze-Rybczynski JL, Sugawara Z, Money NP (2008). The Fastest Flights in Nature: High-Speed Spore Discharge Mechanisms among Fungi PLoS One, 3 (9) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0003237