In Ohio, researchers found that psilocybin, the chemical that gives mushrooms hallucinogenic effects, actually serves a purpose for the mushrooms themselves. They analyzed three hallucinogenic fungi and compared them to three non-hallucinogenic relatives and found the genes responsible for producing the funky psychedelic chemical. While they aren’t yet sure exactly how, they found that specific group of genes and resulting psilocybin chemical could help repel insects and protect the mushrooms.
Because they found the genes in distantly related groups, they concluded that the mushrooms swapped the genes via “horizontal gene transfer,” which is uncommon in mushrooms. Lead researcher Jason Slot at Ohio State University, told New Scientist that the genes must be helpful for the mushrooms in some way and that “Strong selection could be the reason this gene cluster was able to overcome the barriers to horizontal gene transfer.”