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Some mushrooms may be mind-meltingly magical, but they didn't appear out of thin air. Like all fungi, psychotropic shrooms evolved from another living species, though only a scant amount of research has actually gone into classifying the family tree of psilocybin mushrooms.
This month, however, mycologists at the University of Guadalajara and the University of Tennessee have revealed a working hypothesis as to how hallucinogenic mushrooms have evolved and produced the first multi-gene analysis of the genus Psilocybe's evolutionary arc. The research was published in the journal Botany, and in no small way follows in the footsteps of Gastón Guzmán, an expert on the genus Psilocybe who has studied these fungi for over a half century, at one point publishing a monograph of the genus.
The new report is dense, though by offering an update to Guzmán's monograph it highlights some tidbits about mushrooms that are, well, enlightening.
In the past, scientists were careful to separately classify hallucinogenic species (Psilocybe) from non-psychedelic mushroom species (Deconica, say). The thinking was that varying species did not come from just one ancestor. Now, in light of the new research, which claims that classifications in the past were based only on morphological features, we know that both Psilocybe and Deconica are monophylic, meaning each in fact did originate from a common ancestor within their distinct families (Hymenogastraceae and Strophariaceae s.str., respectively).
The researchers also discovered two principal lineages and nested subgroups within Psilocybe. Psilocybe species are more genetically united because they contain psilocybin (and often psilocin and baeocystin), though other mushroom genera, such as such as Conocybe Fayod and Copelandia, can have psychedelic properties as well. The researchers intend to "analyze the evolution of their unusual basidiospore shape and spore wall thickness in both clades," as well as evaluate the evolution of chrysocystidia in Strophariaceae.
"Little is known about [these mushrooms'] evolutionary relationships," the researchers write. But while we're likely still a ways off from discovering the proverbial Toad, the supreme boom-cap, the search for the Adam and Eve of shrooms has more momentum than ever before.