New student organization cultivates space for passions in mycology

Angela Lim, News Reporter

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the Feb 4, 2022 flipbook.

While rummaging through UT’s course schedule archives over the years, Ali Shirazi discovered BIO 329, a medical mycology class last taught in 2007. Recognizing the lack of opportunities to study the field on campus, Shirazi made plans to revive the efforts himself.

“I just thought there seemed to be a need,” said biology junior Shirazi. “I mean, (mushrooms are) an entire kingdom, and UT has the resources. We’re this great research institution.”

To gauge other students’ interest in mycology — the scientific study of fungi, mushrooms and yeast — Shirazi shared his idea of starting an organization to the UT community on Reddit and Discord. In less than two weeks, he founded the Longhorn Mycological Society, a space where students can learn about the biology of mushrooms and participate in activities such as community foraging and cultivation.

“I was expecting people to be like, ‘That’s off-handed, weird, whatever,’” Shirazi said. “But no, most people who hear about it are like, ‘Oh, I don’t actually know much about (mushrooms), but they seem interesting. I’d be willing to learn more.’”

Since its creation on Jan. 22, the Longhorn Mycological Society GroupMe gained over 60 members. Neuroscience freshman Michael Solomon said he found out about the organization through friends who showed him Shirazi’s Reddit post.

“I tell my friends about my fascination with mushrooms, and I always try to point them out whenever I see one,” Solomon said. “I joined (the club) immediately, and I’m really excited to see where it goes.”

After learning about the medicinal properties and natural importance of fungi in middle school, Solomon said his interest in mycology gradually developed over time.

“Growing up, you start to appreciate the small things around you more and take notice of them, and over these past years, that’s what’s pulled me into (mycology),” Solomon said.

Computer science sophomore Prithvi Jamadagni said he first read about the unique biological characteristics of fungi from science magazines 10 years ago. Fascinated by mushrooms’ environmental functions, he continued learning about their roles in ecosystems.

“(Fungi are) able to establish really complex symbiotic relationships with many other trees and plants,” Jamadagni said. “They’re able to cleanse the soil by leaching out specific metals, which I found very interesting.”

Through joining the Longhorn Mycological Society, Jamadagni said he hopes to enrich his knowledge in various mushroom species and their growing conditions with other mycophiles.

“It’s a really cool way to meet people who have a niche interest,” Jamadagni said. “You get a window into some parts of the world.”

Shirazi said he aims to make mycological resources more accessible for the UT community by fostering an organization that welcomes all students, regardless of expertise. He said he hopes these initiatives will show demonstrated interest to include mycology in University course catalogs again.

“Being able to create this work, start something new on campus and fill the need for such a large portion of biology is super fulfilling, but it’s also just something that needs to be done,” Shirazi said. “It’s been a really pleasant thing to realize that there is a vacuum in this space of science where people have this interest in mycology.”