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No. 33: May-Jun 1984

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Killer Fungi Cast Sticky Nets

Your garden soil likely contains nematodes (popularly called eelworms) that will gnaw away at your crops. Nematodes are about a millimeter long and very active, thrashing through the soil like fish through water. Their numbers are kept in check by a surprisingly sophisticated fungus which thrives on them. If nematodes are around (not otherwise), the fungus sets out two kinds of traps. The first is the sticky net made of threads sent out by the fungus. Any nematode that brushes against these sticky strands is held while the fungus rams special feeding pegs into it. The second kind of trap is even more marvelous. It is an array of rings, each consisting of three unique cells that are sensitive to touch. Attracted by alluring chemicals secreted by the fungus, the nematodes probe around the rings. In a tenth of a second after they are touched, the fungus rings contract around the interloping nematodes. Again the nematode is doomed as the terrible feeding pegs penetrate its body. Another chemical is then released by the fungus to keep other fungi away from its kill.

(Simons, Paul; "The World of the Killer Fungi," New Scientist, 20, March 1, 1984.)

Comment. Does anyone really believe that even the "simplest" form of life is really simple?

From Science Frontiers #33, MAY-JUN 1984. � 1984-2000 William R. Corliss