by Piter Kehoma Boll
If you live near or has ever visited a distillery, you may have noticed a black stain covering part of the outer walls. It may at first look like soot, but if you look close enough you will notice it is actually some sort of life form.
This phenomenon was first observed in 1872 in the city of Cognac, France and reported by Antonin Baudoin, the director of the French Distillers’ Association. During the following years the thing was identified as a fungus that is currently named Baudoinia compniacensis and commonly known as the whiskey fungus or the angels’ share fungus but I decided to call it the brandy fungus, and I’ll explain why later.
The reason for this fungus to grow around distilleries is because it is able to metabolize ethanol as a carbon source, i.e., as food, and thrives on the ethanol vapor released from such factories. It is, however, sensitive to high concentrations of this alcohol and thus rarely grows inside the buildings, preferring the outer surfaces and nearby structures, including tree branches.
Until now, the whiskey fungus was never found in natural habitats away from ethanol emissions generated by human activities. In the wild, it probably grows around natural ethanol emissions, such as rotting fruits, but as such emissions are much less concentrated than human-generated ones, it certainly cannot grow as much as near distilleries. We can say that this species became very successful after humans started to produce alcoholic beverages on a large scale.
For many years, all fungi growing around distilleries in the world were considered as belonging to the same species, Baudoinia compniacensis. However, a recent molecular study using populations from different parts of the world revealed that they belong to different species, and each species seems to be restricted to a certain geographic location. The species Baudoinia compniacensis was found only in France. Populations in Scotland form a separate species, Baudoinia caledoniensis, and the same applies to populations in the Americas (Baudoinia panamericana), the Caribbean (B. antilliensis) and the Far East (B. orientalis). Thus, the name Whiskey Fungus does not seem to be adequate and would better fit Baudoinia caledoniensis.
Anyway, the next time you see a distillery covered by a black growth, remember that it is a species that flourished because of us and our love for alcohol.
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Scott JA, Ewaze JO, Summerbell RC, Arocha-Rosete Y, Maharaj A, Guardiola Y, Saleh M, Wong B, Mogale M, O’Hara MJ, Untereiner WA (2016) Multilocus DNA sequencing of the whiskey fungus reveals a continental-scale speciation pattern. Persoonia 37: 13–20. doi: 10.3767/003158516X689576
Scott JA, Summerbell RC (2016) Biology of the Whiskey Fungus. In: Li D-W (Ed.) Biology of Microfungi, Springer, pp. 413–428. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-29137-6_16
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