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  • New Cultivars on the Horizon: Over 100 Magic Mushroom Genomes Analyzed

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Name:	Low-Res_Cultivated magic mushrooms grown at Funky Fungus (new cross of an Australian and cultivar) CREDIT Alistair McTaggart.jpg
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    This photograph shows cultivated magic mushrooms grown at Funky Fungus (a new cross of an Australian and cultivar). Image Credit: Alistair McTaggart



    In a significant advancement for mycology and psychedelics research, a comprehensive study has decoded the genetic secrets of over 100 varieties of "magic mushrooms." Published in Current Biology on December 4, this research by scientists at The University of Queensland, Australia, offers a detailed look at the genetic diversity within Psilocybe cubensis, a species known for its psychoactive properties.

    Genetic Diversity: A Tale of Two Populations
    The study's findings highlight a stark contrast in genetic diversity between commercial Psilocybe cubensis cultivars and their wild counterparts in Australia. While commercial cultivars show limited genetic variation due to human domestication, Australian mushrooms exhibit a rich genetic tapestry. This includes unique gene variants responsible for psilocybin production, the mushroom's active compound.

    "What was surprising was the extreme homozygosity of some cultivars of magic mushroom," noted Alistair McTaggart of The University of Queensland, Australia. He points out that some cultivars "have been nearly stripped of any diversity except at their genes controlling sexual reproduction."

    The Roots of Domestication
    The research delves into the history of these mushrooms, pondering whether the lack of genetic diversity in commercial strains resulted from intentional inbreeding or an unintentional narrowing of genetic pools. "The trailblazers who domesticated magic mushrooms have set the stage for how we can advance cultivation and innovate with shrooms as we improve our understanding of psilocybin and its benefits," McTaggart explains.

    This study was uniquely fueled by a grassroots effort from the magic mushroom community. Enthusiasts, many of whom are co-authors of the study, contributed samples for analysis, showcasing a collective drive to understand these fungi better.

    Comparing Cultivars and Wild Strains
    Researchers sequenced genomes from 38 Australian isolates, comparing them to 86 commercially available cultivars. Their analysis confirmed that the Australian strains are naturalized, maintaining a robust genetic diversity after being introduced to the continent. Conversely, commercial strains exhibit a marked lack of genetic diversity across their genomes, pointing to potential innovations in psilocybin synthesis in the Australian variants.

    Breeding the Future of Psychedelics
    The data on mating compatibility and genetic diversity in psilocybin production genes pave the way for the development of "designer shrooms." These new strains could offer varied psychedelic experiences due to diverse psilocybin production. McTaggart's start-up, Funky Fungus, is already translating these findings into developing such cultivars.

    Implications for Natural Drug Development
    McTaggart believes these findings could have significant implications for using psilocybin in mental health treatments. "Magic mushrooms are the cheapest source of psilocybin and may fill a niche in natural drug development," he says. The study opens doors to understanding how magic mushrooms produce various compounds that influence the psilocybin experience, marking a promising direction for future research.

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