Deep in the Australian wilderness, there lies a new species of magic mushroom — scientists just aren't sure exactly where.
The mysterious mushroom was recently discovered by Dr Alistair McTaggart, a fungal genetics researcher at the University of Queensland, while sifting through soil samples taken from Kakadu and Litchfield National Parks in Australia’s Northern Territory.
Analyzing the soil samples, he noticed DNA sequences of a Psilocybe fungus that had never been identified before. The previously unknown species belongs to the genus Psilocybe and contains genes that strongly suggest it is one of the 200-odd species of mushroom known to naturally produce psilocybin, a psychedelic compound.
However, only microbial traces of the mushroom were found in the soil, so its appearance and precise characteristics still remain a mystery. Looking at its genetic makeup, Dr McTaggart believes Kakadu’s lost magic mushroom may resemble Psilocybe brunneocystidiata, a species of psychedelic mushroom discovered deep in rainforests in Papua New Guinea in the 1970s.
The recent discovery came around through a project to study the distribution of a widely known magic mushroom, Psilocybe cubensis, also known as gold tops. Though this mushroom now grows in the wild across Australia, the Americas, and Asia, no one is sure where the species originated
Gold tops tend to grow on cow poop, so are often found on cattle ranches. Interestingly, the global distribution of the magic mushroom overlaps with the range of a bird species closely linked to cows, the Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis). Perhaps the far-reaching travels of this bird helped gold tops to colonize large parts of the world.
Another part of McTaggart's work involves creating the first living collection of Australia’s native magic mushrooms, a topic that remains remarkably little-known.
“We are not certain of magic mushroom biodiversity in Australia,” Dr McTaggart said in a statement.
“We do not even know how many species produce psilocybin.”
Closely studying the genetics of magic mushrooms could help scientists identify characteristics that might be useful for medical research into psychedelic treatments. An ever-expanding body of research has recently shown that psychedelic mushrooms could be an effective treatment for a range of mental health conditions, from treatment-resistant depression to PTSD.
So, when it comes to species of magic mushrooms, each with their own qualities and genetic quirks, the more the merrier.