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Genetic diversity of ‘magic mushrooms’ leaves room for new cultivars

In a remarkable advancement in the field of mycology, scientists have conducted an extensive study on the genome data of various “magic mushroom” isolates and cultivars.

This research aims to understand the effects of domestication and cultivation on these psychedelic fungi. The findings could pave the way for the development of novel cultivars with unique properties.

Magic mushrooms lack genetic diversity

The study primarily focuses on the mushroom Psilocybe cubensis, a species renowned for its psychoactive properties. Researchers have discovered that commercial cultivars of this mushroom exhibit a significant lack of genetic diversity.

Their domestication for human consumption is the cause of this finding. In stark contrast, a naturalized population of these mushrooms in Australia demonstrates far greater genetic diversity. This diversity includes unique gene variants responsible for the production of psilocybin, the active psychedelic compound in these mushrooms.

Alistair McTaggart, a researcher from The University of Queensland, Australia, expressed surprise at the extreme homozygosity observed in some cultivars. According to McTaggart, this lack of diversity could be the result of targeted inbreeding.

“Some of these cultivars have been nearly stripped of any diversity except at their genes controlling sexual reproduction,” McTaggart says. “Whether this happened intentionally, by targeted inbreeding to fix traits over the last half century, or unintentionally through a lack of diversity to cross against is hard to know.” he says.

Community-driven research

An intriguing aspect of this research is its grassroots origin. The study was propelled by an underground community passionate about magic mushrooms, many of whom are co-authors.

Without formal financial support, these enthusiasts collected samples and contributed to the DNA sequencing of over 100 varieties, highlighting a unique community-driven approach to scientific research.

The team sequenced genomes from 38 Australian isolates and compared them to 86 commercially available cultivars. This comparison aimed to assess the impact of domestication on commercially available mushrooms and to understand the introduction and naturalization of mushrooms in Australia.

The Australian samples showed a rebound in population size sufficient to maintain genetic diversity, unlike their commercially cultivated counterparts.

The study’s findings suggest that the unique gene variants in Australian mushrooms could lead to differences in psilocybin synthesis. McTaggart’s start-up, Funky Fungus, is already leveraging these insights to develop “designer shrooms.” These cultivars could offer a variety in the production of psychedelic tryptamines, thanks to the heterozygosity of psilocybin alleles.

Magic mushrooms and mental health

McTaggart underscores the potential significance of these developments for the use of psilocybin as a natural compound in treating mental health disorders. He points out that magic mushrooms could be a cost-effective source of psilocybin for natural drug development.

“The trailblazers who domesticated magic mushrooms have set the stage for how we can advance cultivation and innovate with shrooms as we improve our understanding of psilocybin and its benefits,” McTaggart points out.

The study also opens doors to understanding the production of other compounds in magic mushrooms that may influence the psilocybin experience.

In summary, this revealing study sheds light on the genetic complexities of Psilocybe cubensis, and also marks a significant step in the development of novel psychedelic substances. The collaborative nature exhibited here, bridging scientific inquiry and community involvement, sets a precedent for future studies in this field.

As the research unfolds, it promises exciting developments in the realm of natural psychedelics and mental health treatment.

The full study was published in the journal Current Biology.

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