Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Why does a mushroom have that shape?

I bet you haven’t, for one moment, thought about the shape of a mushroom. Why does it look like it does? Because it is a clever example of natural engineering according to the boffins at Miami University. The gills on the underside are designed to carry the maximum number of spores, about 20 times more than would fit on a flat surface.

“Spores are catapulted from the gill surface, travel a short distance horizontally, then fall vertically to be swept away by air currents. The spores then go off to start new mushroom colonies,” explains Professor Nicholas Money. (Yes. Real name. I bet he is called “Thief” behind his back. You know, Nick Money. I don’t think it is funny either).

Nick and his colleagues have placed mushrooms in wind tunnels and found that the leading edge of the mushroom causes a rapid slowing of air movement close to the underside, allowing spores to successfully leave the gills and drop into fasting moving air to be dispersed. If the air movement wasn’t slowed near the gills there is a good chance that the spores will be blown back into the gill structure and not travel anywhere. That’s a clever mushroom.

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