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We put this to Professor Mike Cole from Anglia Ruskin University...
Mike - The reason that many fungi produce what are called secondary metabolites is as a defence reaction to their environment. For example, they might prevent attack by animals, plants, other fungi, or in fact, bacteria. They're called secondary metabolites because they're not essential for life in the same way that vitamins, sugars and amino acids are, but they do confer some advantage on, in this case, the fungus that produces them.
[img float=right]/forum/copies/RTEmagicC_800px-Psilocybe_cyanofriscosa_62599_01.jpg.jpg[/img]The cost includes producing precursor chemicals, supplying the energy compounds, supplying the reducing power. Whilst as forensic scientists we understand a lot about the genetics for the identification of these organisms, there is nothing known about the genetics of how these compounds are produced although we do understand the biochemical pathway in terms of the starting materials and the end product.
There are a host of other compounds that are produced by fungi, plants and bacteria. Perhaps one of the most famous of these are the ergotamine alkaloids which are used postoperatively, but also are hallucinogenic. And also, compounds produced by fungus called claviceps which supplies the precursor chemical for our friend, LSD.
However, for at least some mushroom-forming species, spore dispersal by mammals (squirrels, voles, deer etc) following mycophagy is also thought to be important (eg. Ashkannejhad andHorton . New Phytologist, 169:345-354) and it is not uncommon to see 'nibbled' mushrooms. Also there are diverse insects (eg fungus gnats) that inhabit mushrooms -presumably leading to more rapid decay.So there may be a trade-off between deterring animals to maximise wind dispersal and the role of animals as vectors. Toxins, hallucinogens, volatiles and coloration could all play a role in these processes.
There is another concoction of hallucinogens (though not fungi related) made from a brew called Ayahuasca as used by Amazonian tribes. The Banisteriopsis caapi vine contains a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) and is mixed with the leaves of dimethyltryptamine (DMT)-containing species of shrubs from the genus Psychotria. It is said the foul tasting combination of "herbs", apart from making one vomit, literally knocks one into an elevated change of consciousness where one experiences the spirit world. Users report of life changing experiences after subsequently grounding themselves.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayahuasca