Lovely Rotten World

Amazing World of Rot

I have a growing body (so to speak) of resources on the “human microbiome”–that living cosmos of thousands of species and gazillions of individual living organisms that we each call ME.

Case in point, quickly, because I have weed-whacking duties before the sun crests the ridge–you have some 100 or more fungi living on your feet alone.

The image above (click to enlarge in Flickr) shows a mycological community hopefully such as you’d only see growing out of a plant, although the blue polypores would go well emerging near my baby-blues, don’t you think?

Tree trunks like this are common in mature woods (this one growing near Konnarock below Mt Rogers) where trees live long enough to have the diseases of old age. The fungal threads, whose total biomass far exceeds the visible external “mushroom” part of the fungus, secrete enzymes that break cellulose and lignin into digestible sugars. This may come in handy in a future where cellulosic biomass may contribute to local energy needs.

Without this service of decay, the world would quickly fill up with dead but undecayed organic matter, tying up the building blocks needed by the next generation of growing things. Not to mention that the un-rot would just pile up deeper and deeper on the forest floor.

More conversation, perhaps some morning after the days get shorter again, on the colossal community that is the human microbiome. We are legion.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Will this old tree have its life shortened by these fungi, you think? Is it the equivalent of an infectios disease?