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Feast Your Eyes: Whisky's Mycological Microparadise

How a conspicuous black growth revealed the hidden world of extreme urban fungi.


Even the cleanest distilleries in the world can have mysterious black stains on their walls. In Lakeshore, Ontario, when Canadian Club began receiving complaints about stains inhabiting the walls and roofs of neighboring homes, mycologists went looking for answers.

What they found was incredible. The escaping alcohol vapors, or the "angels’ share" of whisky that's lost to evaporation, played host to a previously undiscovered fungi, Baudoinia compniacensis. Adam Rogers writes in this month’s Wired magazine:


[H]ow does a fungus that’s millions of years old, older than Homo sapiens, find a near-perfect ecological niche amid stuff people have been making for only a couple of centuries? Presumably somewhere in the world, naturally occurring Baudoinia lives adjacent to naturally fermenting fruit—or maybe it’s everywhere, a sluggish loser until it gets a whiff of ethanol. Evolution is full of stories of animals and plants fitting into hyper-specific man-made niches, as if nature somehow got the specs in advance.

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Instead of thinking of our cities stains and their unique microbiological life as unclean hazards, imagine what we could do by harnessing the kinds of extreme urban fungi adapted to live and love distillery fumes. And if similar species thrive off of diesel fumes or acidic rain, just image how they might be able to transform our cities.

Photo viaBaudoinia, a new genus to accommodate Torula compniacensis,” ©2007 by The Mycological Society of America.

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