The Agricultural Industry Needs To Recruit Termite-Farmers
There does not exist any termite species within the North American continent that cultivate fungi. Many Americans may not have even been aware of the fact that thousands of different termite species are capable of farming fungi. The vast majority of fungi-farming termites dwell within Africa and Southeast Asia. Many of you are aware that termites build nesting mounds that are climate controlled. Many of these mounds must be climate controlled in order to allow for the growth of fungi within a mound. Researchers have always been in awe of a termite species ability to farm their own fungi. In fact, some researchers think that human agricultural practices should be modeled after termite farming techniques.
The Macrotermes genus of termite is prevalent in Africa and Asia. All termites belonging to this genus are subterranean, and all cultivate their own fungus. Another termite genus that farms fungi is known as the Odontotermes genus. The seventy eight species that belong to the Odontotermes species are scattered over Africa and Asia. This genus is similar to the Macrotermes genus, only the Odontotermes genus is not just limited to farming in nesting mounds. The Odontotermes species can also dwell within trees where they farm fungi. These African and Asian termites have been cultivating fungi for tens of millions of years, which probably makes them more skilled at farming than humans ever could be.
What amazes researchers about fungi-farming termites is their ability to produce steady and consistent yields of fungus even over thousands and thousands of generations, and even longer. Termite yields never come up short. Recently researchers attempted to farm the same types of fungi that termites farm. However, the researchers soon realized that their yields decreased significantly with each generation. So how can humans learn to farm as effectively as termites? According to the lead researcher of the study, unconscious selection is the likely reason as to why human fungal-farming models failed. In regions of Africa and Asia, termite-grown fungi sprouts mushrooms that are picked and sold as food. But these popular edible mushrooms cannot be grown at all in a lab. These mushrooms provide a great source of nutrients and protein. Researchers could also benefit from having certain enzymes extracted from termite-grown fungi. Luckily, a research group has just been granted one and a half million euros in order to study how humans can best mimic termite farming methods.
Do you think that humans can learn to farm as well as termites even if humans do not know how termites build climate controlled nests?