For a gazillionth time I’ve been chilling by re-watch Friends and this time around I busted Ross – the brainy PhD and professor in Paleontology, for not knowing what “gleba” is. When his toddler daughter said the word and her mom got excited that it’s her first word, he unimpressed claimed “that’s not a real world”. But yes! YES IT IS! Gleba is a fleshy mass in some species of fungi which carries their spores (usually a type of dormant cells specialized for spreading and/or reproduction).
Spores are formed by many organisms and are by far property only of the fungi. Ferns, many bacteria, and even some higher complexity plant and animal species from spores. By structure the spores are almost as versatile as the species able to make them. Their sizes usually vary between 3 and 200 micrometers – for a comparison, the size of a grain of salt is about 5 mites bigger than the biggest spores! They are usually metabolically inactive cells, where only the bare minimum of cellular components and processes are maintained so it can survive as long as possible until finding good place to “sprout”and recreate the organism anew. Because they are meant for survival one way or another, spores are often extremely resistant to all sorts of conditions that would kill the original fully grown and functioning organism which makes them – UV, toxic chemicals, drought, very low or very high temperatures, complete lack of nutrients and whatnot. Spores are even found in the highest layers of the atmosphere where few living things survive!
Because spores are so small and light, they can literally end up anywhere! Which is why they so often can be the reason for allergies, hyper-sensitivities, infections, asthma and all sorts of nasty infections. Although by far not all spores are toxic, the ones that are nasty. Some toxins are known to cause cancer, for example the aflatoxins can cause cancer by prolonged inflammation and direct DNA damage which can turn normally growing cells into cancerous hotspots. Other spore toxins have been famous for their “recreational” use – in many cases of the so-called “magic mushroom” species, the toxin responsible for the hallucinogenic effect is contained in their spores. Some scientists claim beneficial effects from intoxication with spores of different organisms, even to the extent of attributing the scientific inspiration of many old-timer scientists to textbooks naturally “infused” with fungal spores, which in turn end up being inhaled in greater quantities by the “most dedicated to the field”, but there isn’t sufficient data to prove or disprove this claim.
Spores of some species are used for doing good too – often lyophilized (freeze-dried) spores of yeast and beneficial bacteria can be used as a resilient form of shipping or storing them. In traditional medicine the spore of some puffball fungi can be directly applied to open wounds where it has strong antibacterial and antiseptic effect – to prevent infection and blood poisoning which can lead to a very very painful death.
So now you know more than one of the TV’s favorite PhDs – a gleba is a real thing! Enjoy that knowledge and stay on the lookout for toxic spores!