Pilobolus fungi can accelerate spores at 20,000 Gs

Credit: bp

You'd never guess that one of the fastest accelerating living things on the planet is also found in one of the dirtiest places: on poop. The Pilobolus fungi, which most closely resembles a clear q-tip with a black dot on top, is a veritable plant-cannon that can accelerate its spores faster than anything else on Earth.

Using a high speed camera that can slow down its cannon action by 10,000 times, researchers were able to see the spores hurtling through the air at over 12 miles per hour in just two microseconds. If this acceleration and speed was scaled up to human-size, it'd be two orders of magnitude greater than traveling at the speed of sound.

The spores can land anywhere from a few centimeters to a distance of six feet. Because the fungi has the unique ability to point itself directly at a light source, the ensuing orientation apparently allows the spores to be shot at an acceptable distance from its launchpad.

So why the need for such a high-speed spore release? The Pilobolus fungi relies on herbivorous animals to reproduce, and its long-distance trip ensures that it will be gobbled up along with the grass it lands on. After it is eaten, it safely passes through the animal's digestive tract and is eventually deposited in its excrement, where it begins its life cycle all over again. The sporangium of the Pilobolus is also covered in protective calcium oxalate crystals that enables it to flip over onto its sticky side when landing in a dewdrop, giving it extra clinging action.

Naturally, this natural, high-speed fungi cannon is a much prized asset for parasites like lungworms who use the ultra-fast spores as a gratis trip, increasing its chances of infecting more animal hosts.

Wikipedia, via Gizmodo

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