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Mycena lucentipes, literally "glowing stem," is one of four new species of bioluminescent fungi discovered by Professor Desjardin. Not only do the mushrooms glow as seen above, but their mycelium (the thread-like filaments that do the work of decomposition) glow brightly too.

  Let it Glow 
For more than 20 years, biology Professor Dennis Desjardin has been illuminating the world of fungi, some of nature's most important recyclers of organic matter. His latest findings are doing some illuminating of their own.

During recent treks into the old-growth forest habitat south of São Paulo, Brazil, Desjardin and his colleagues found 10 species of bioluminescent fungi, each capable of producing light through a chemical reaction. Four of these fungi are new to science.

Desjardin, with colleagues Cassius Stevani of the University of São Paulo, and Marina Capelari of Brazil's Institute of Botany, discovered such glowing decomposers as Mycena lucentipes, literally "glowing stem," (left). "Only the stem glows, but so brightly that it illuminates the rest of the mushroom and is bright enough to read by," Desjardin explains. During the past three decades, he and his colleagues have increased the number of known bioluminescent fungi by 30 percent.

When did bioluminescence emerge in fungi and why? Desjardin's research team is seeking answers by extracting and sequencing DNA and developing a mushroom "family tree" that includes glowers along with their nonglowing relatives.

To date, Desjardin has personally published more than 150 new species and three new genera of mushrooms; he has hundreds more waiting for his attention in the Harry D. Thiers Herbarium in Hensill Hall. With more than 85,000 specimens of fleshy fungi, it is the largest and most important collection of these taxa west of the Mississippi and includes mycota from around the world, including the Hawaiian Islands, Indonesia, Southeast Asia, South America, Europe and Australia. Desjardin has added small dried specimens of the glowers to the herbarium, which can be toured by special appointment.

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