Merlin Sheldrake on his debut book Entangled Life and how fungi shaped 'the whole history of life'

Virgin Radio

1 Mar 2022, 12:04

Credit: Getty / Amazon

Credit: Getty / Amazon

Biologist and writer Merlin Sheldrake is a top expert in the life of mushrooms and other fungi, and while chatting on The Chris Evans Breakfast Show with Sky, Merlin shared why fungi are so important not just to evolution, but to life as we know it today.

When quizzed by Chris about what huge historic events took place, and why they’re connected to mushrooms and fungi, Melvin responded: “The ancestors of plants wouldn't have made it out of the water and onto the land about 500 million years ago, if it wasn't for their relationships with with funghi. 

“[Fungi] behaved as their root systems which grow in and around their bodies and wove their way into the soil and forage nutrients and water for them from the soil. All plants descend from this relationship with fungi. The whole history of life on land is in many ways, a history of fungal relationships.”

Of course, mushrooms and other fungi aren't just good for eating or medicines, like Penicillin, but they can also help us think of more sustainable ways of living. 

Melvin explained: “There are so many fungal drugs and so many fungal drugs yet to be discovered that can change our lives and societies in unimaginable ways.

“There are also building materials that people are starting to develop using fungi. Building materials that can be grown on waste products from agriculture, that will decompose when their job is done. And this might revolutionise both building and also fashion because you can make a kind of leather like material from this fungus."

So we’ve got ways to help save the planets with fungi, and ways to keep us healthy, but it wouldn’t be a chat about fungi without talking about psychedelics. 

Melvin took part in an LSD study to look into the effects of the drug on problem-solving abilities of scientists, engineers and mathematicians, and discovered the fascinating way fungi can open up parts of your mind previously untouched. 

On the eye-opening experiment, Melvin revealed: “My experience in this study was that my mind is so much bigger than I normally realise. I spent most of my life in quite a small part of my mind, but actually, my mind is much larger.

“It’s like, I live in most of my life in the garden of my mind. But at the bottom of the garden is a gate which goes out to a field which goes up to a forest and continues and continues. And so I had this sense of exploring these spaces, these mental spaces that I did not normally know existed.”

Merlin Sheldrake’s debut book, Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds and Shape Our Futures is out now.

For more great interviews listen to The Chris Evans Breakfast Show with Sky, weekdays from 6:30am on Virgin Radio, or catch up on-demand here.