Fungi Found To Communicate In Ways Similar In Structure To Human Language

Luke Allen, Editor

A study conducted by the Unconventional Computing Laboratory at the University of the West of England has successfully shown that certain types of fungi communicate with each other in bursts of electrical activity similar in structure to human languages. 

It has been well established within the scientific community that fungi communicate with themselves and other organisms such as trees through electrical signals. The strength of these electrical signals changes based on the stimuli, for example when a fungus is presented with food electrical activity will spike as it communicates that it found food to the other fungi connected to the same mycelium. This kind of interaction was thought to be the extent of communication between fungi and other organisms, but a new study conducted by Prof Andrew Adamatzky at the University of the West of England’s unconventional computing laboratory in Bristol presents a new idea. The electrical impulses sent by fungi to one another through mycelium networks are a language similar in structure to those used by humans.

Adamatzky tested this theory on four specific species of fungi the enoki, split gill, ghost and caterpillar fungi by inserting microelectrodes into the mycelium substrates of the fungi in order to measure the strength of the electrical signals sent. Each electrical impulse was recorded before being organized into a group where it was then analyzed for informational complexity and linguistic meaning. Spikes of electrical activity varied significantly with some lasting up to 21 hours. The research concluded that the electrical activity of these fungi tended to be clustered into groups resembling a vocabulary. Under closer examination it was found that this “vocabulary” consists of up to around 50 “words”. Out of all the species experimented on, the Split-Gill mushrooms produced the most diverse sentences.

Adamatzky stated in his paper that, “A fungal word length averaged over four species […] is 5.97 which is of the same range as an average word length in some human languages, e.g. 4.8 in English and 6 in Russian.” Adamatzky proposes that these clusters of electrical activity are used to maintain the integrity of the fungal colony, comparing them to the howls that wolves use to identify other individuals and work as a single cohesive pack. 

Although the research certainly shows fungi produce complex patterns of electrical impulses it is still unknown whether or not the signals are actually used to communicate. “We do not know if there is a direct relationship between spiking patterns in fungi and human speech,” Adamatzky told the Guardian. “Possibly not. On the other hand, there are many similarities in information processing in living substrates of different classes, families, and species. I was just curious to compare.”

Despite the similarities many other experts in the field remain skeptical. One such expert, Dan Bebber, a Mycologist at the University of Exeter, told the Guardian that these electrical signals may be similar to nutrient pulses seen in fungi. Continuing by saying that, “Though interesting, the interpretation as language seems somewhat overenthusiastic, and would require far more research and testing of critical hypotheses before we see ‘Fungus’ on Google Translate.”