That mold that looks like a Dr. Seussian forest growing on the rotting strawberry in your fridge: It’s probably a pin mold, a remarkable example of some of nature’s most overlooked innovations.
It’s related to a common fungus called Phycomyces blakesleeanus, a larger one, famous for its sensing abilities. It can respond to wind and touch, grow toward light and detect and navigate around objects placed above it. It senses gravity too — with crystals that move around inside single, but giant, elongated, spore-containing cells that resemble Truffula Trees.
“You can put that thing in a microscope — you don’t need a high-powered microscope — and you just see these beautiful crystals,” said Gregory Jedd, a geneticist who studies fungi at Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory in Singapore. But he wondered where they came from.
So in a paper published Tuesday in PLOS Biology, he and his colleagues determined that the crystals were likely the result of a gene that the molds’ common ancestor borrowed from bacteria long ago. Their findings highlight how nature finds weird ways to turn accidents into strengths through evolution..