10 Feb How to become an underground dealer: the botanical game ‘Mycocosm’

Screenshot of the game Mycocosm by Alex MayScreenshot of the game Mycocosm

Right beneath your feet, there is a very busy marketplace where fungi and plants are constantly dealing in nutrients. The newly developed game, Mycocosm, lets you discover the underground marketplace and the struggle to survive. The game is developed by a Biological Sciences student from the FNWI. So, how does it work?

Mycocosm: dealing in nutrients as a plant
In Mycocosm, you are a plant with a goal to survive, by keeping up your phosphorus, carbon and nitrogen levels. You do this by:

  • trading nutrients with fungi
  • developing your root system and foliage to increase your nutrient supply, enabling you to trade more
  • battling pathogens that try to steal your nutrients
  • watching out for cheaters that don’t give you what they promise

If your nutrient levels become exhausted, you die…

Mycocosm was developed by Alex May, a Canadian Master’s student who studied at our faculty. He wanted to combine his two main interests – biology and gaming – to show people the fascinating world that is hidden from our view: “My aim is to exaggerate the weirdness and coolness (and action) of real microbial and plant ecology, and hopefully inspire players to dig deeper into the actual research that’s out there.”

The science behind the game: collaboration between plants and fungi
Mycocosm is based on research from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam on mycorrhizae. These form symbiotic associations between fungi and plant roots. Mycorrhizae are astonishing relationships as they:

  • They exist in almost all types of habitats: from deserts to rainforests, and even under water1.
  • They occur with 90% of all land plants.
  • They are ancient: they probably even helped the first plants move from water to land, about 450 million years ago, by preventing them from drying out and starving.
  • They provide a win-win situation: the plants trade their carbon (which they make through photosynthesis) for the phosphorus and nitrogen of the fungi (which they can extract with their hyphae from tight soil spaces that plant roots can’t reach).
  • They are intelligent: fungi can withhold phosphorus and nitrogen from greedy plants that don’t exchange enough carbon2, and the other way around.


Check out this video if you want to find out more.

So have you given Mycocosm a try? Or can you recommend other science games? Let us know in the comments 🙂

WTF anneke

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WTF anneke

WTF anneke

Country girl now living in Amsterdam, Biological Sciences master student, folk musician, knows something strange about any subject, nasty habit of correcting linguistic errors, unconditional love for baking and absolutely addicted to coffee and cakes.
WTF anneke

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