mycelial technology

Network Resilience: Woronin Bodies and the Scuttleverse

25 March, 2018

Today I spent some more time reading through Fungi in the Environment, particularly the chapter titled “Natural history of the fungal hypha: how Woronin bodies support a multicellular lifestyle” by Gregory Jedd. I’m sharing a bit of it here since I think Woronin bodies, and fungal evolutionary history more broadly, has some metaphorical relevance to the Scuttleverse. My thoughts and presentation here are very rough but I intend on refining them iteratively.

Some fungi have perforated walls (septa) between their cells. Septal pores (openings between cells) allow the cellular contents of the mycelial network to flow through the cells. This is known as protoplasmic streaming and sometimes includes cellular nuclei in addition to other organelles (intracellular modules).

When experiencing damage, stress, old age, or during cellular differentiation, these fungi are able to selectively seal the septal pores in some of their cells. For example, when an insect takes a bite out of a mycelial network, cells adjacent to the destroyed / damaged cells prevent the leaking of protoplasm by sealing their pores. In this sense, they are self-healing and responsive to unanticipated changes in network integrity.

Different fungi take different approaches to halting and resuming protoplasmic streaming. One method of sealing septal pores is via Woronin bodies - bundles of HEX-1, a self-assembling structural protein, tethered to the pore opening. These Woronin bodies are essentially plugs which are pulled into position when required and may be sealed-over in the process of recovering from damage to adjacent cells.

the fungal colony can be thought of as a mass of protoplasm that migrates through a growing, interconnected system of channels. The early-diverging fungi (e.g. Zygomycota) grow well in the absence of vegetative septa; what then is the benefit of the perforate septum? Septal pores confer the advantage of protoplasmic streaming and intercellular continuity but are also sufficiently small to be rapidly closed. Thus, the syncytium can ‘cellularize’ in response to hyphal damage, stress or old age, and during cellular differentiation. Several mechanisms exist to close the septal pore; one of these is described in detail below. Interestingly, the fungi with the most prominent and complex septal-pore-associated organelles, the Hymenomycetes and Euascomycetes (Fig. 2.1), also produce the largest and most complex multicellular fruiting bodies (Alexopolous et al., 1996), suggesting that these organelles support complex multicellular organization.

Perhaps these fungi can inform some of our thinking around diversity, replication and resilience, particularly with regards to recent (Scuttlebutt) discussions concerning trolls and bad actors? Maybe they hold clues to guide our growth towards ‘complex multicellular organization’?

Messages stream through the Scuttleverse via openings in the cells of the network (peers). In response to undesired behaviour from a peer(s), individuals - and, by extension, enclaves - selectively close their portals to the 'Verse - momentarily or permanently stopping the stream. Like fungi, the evolution of the Scuttleverse pulses with hyphal fusion and fission; continually reconfiguring the network topology and connectivity in response to environmental factors. Woronin-bodies, along with similar organelles in other fungi, could be replicated in the 'Verse: programmatic plugs to limit or halt streaming of network content, acting in a decentralized fashion via subjective replication and interaction definitions.

My understanding of SSB is far from adequate to even begin exploring these ideas in code, but I look forward to the day that dream takes shape around me; self-assembling structural proteins dancing as hyphal shards of The Greater Scuttleverse merge and diverge.