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The magic of mushrooms.

  • Fortey, Richard A.
  • Videos

About this work


Professor Richard Fortey explores the kingdom of fungi, looking at what makes them so strange and unique and the many ways they can impact on our own lives. Mycologist Dr Patrick Hickey shows Richard how mushroom species all create distinct spore prints which can be used to identify different species. A consultant pharmacist at St Marys Hospital London, Dr Mark Gilchrist, then talks about the importance of antibiotics in modern medicine. It is thanks to fungi that we have antibiotics today Richard explains how Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin when he found fungi feeding from bacteria in his laboratory in 1928. He then travels to a mushroom farm in Scotland to show how fungi reproduce by releasing spores into the air around them. Some species, like the Orange Peel Fungus, discharge their spores vertically like a geyser. Others, such as the Hat Thrower Fungus, rapidly launch their spore caps into the air with the help of water droplets, fast enough to make them the speediest living organism in the world. Richard then speaks with Bryn Dentinger, a mycologist at Kew Gardens, who is an expert in fungi and explains how they live within an ecosystem. Most fungi have an equal relationship with trees where they share nutrients with trees roots using their own mycelium. Some fungi, however, pose a threat to tree species. The biggest mycelium in the world is a 2384 acre large Honey fungus mycelium found in Oregon, which weakens the trees it feeds from as it takes far more nutrients than it gives. Worse yet is Hymenoscyphus fraxineus (or Chalara fraxinea), which causes Die Ashback Disease. David Bole of the Forestry Commission shows Richard how to recognise the disease in ash trees, explaining how the arrival of the fungi in Britain has negatively impacted on the ash population. Richard then moves onto the positive ways in which fungi mycelium can affect the environment. He introduces Eben Bayer, the founder and CEO of Ecovative, who has managed to harness fungi mycelium to create bio-degradable packing materials as an alternative to plastic. Richard explains how fungi are a vital part of the environment because they recycle the worlds natural waste. Oyster Mushrooms, for example, harness nitrogen from nematode worms for their own growth, but the work of mycologist Paul Stamets and environmental engineer Howard Sprouse has proven that this fungus species can be used to breakdown chemical waste as well. Richard then explores how fungal species relate to death the way that some of them are extremely poisonous to human beings, but their unique properties can also save lives. Dr Cornelia De Moor of the University of Nottingham shows us how Cordyceps fungi, which grow from the bodies of insects, could actually lead towards a cure for cancer. So why do we keep finding deep biological connections between ourselves and fungi? Richard ends the programme by revealing that the reason may lie in our own evolution, as the kingdom of fungi split away from animals 10 million years after animals split away from plants.



Physical description

1 DVD (60 min.) : sound, colour, PAL ; 12 cm


Originally broadcast on 18th September 2016 on BBC 4.

Creator/production credits

Produced and directed by Russell Leven.
Presented by Professor Richard Fortey.

Copyright note

BBC Scotland.



  • English

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