Spore syringes are commonly used in mycology.
To make a spore syringe you will need the following items:
- Sterile syringe
- Sterile syringe needle (blunt tip syringe needles are best as they allow you to suck up more solution!)
- Syringe caps
- Spore print
- Distilled water
- Flask or mason jar
- Pressure cooker capable of cooking at 15psi
- Tin foil
- Still air box (SAB) (You can learn how to make a SAB here)
- 70% isopropyl alcohol
- Lysol (Dettol in the UK)
- Surgical gloves
- Surgical mask
- Flame or lighter
When it comes to making a spore syringe the usual mycology rules apply. We need to work in as clean and sterile an environment as physically possible to create spore syringes free from contaminants.
First I will break down the process for you. Then I will give a more detailed guide so that you can read about the process in more detail.
- Pressure cook the water at 15 psi for 30 minutes to sterilise.
- Allow the water to cool.
- Set up your still air box making sure everything has been cleaned with 70% isopropyl alcohol.
- Sterilise your scalpel using a flame. Allow to cool in the still air box.
- Scrape the spores off your spore print using the scalpel into your sterile water.
- Draw the spore fluid up into the syringe and deposit back again to make sure the spores are evenly dispersed.
- Suck the fluid back into the syringe and cap it.
- Leave for a couple of days before using.
To begin with we need to make sure the water we are using for our spore syringe is completely sterile. I like to use a nice distilled water such as this one.
It makes sense to use the best quality water to begin with. Decide before hand how many spore syringes you are likely to make so that you can sterilise the correct amount of water. Syringes for mycology generally range in size from 3ml up to 20 ml. Depending on how many syringes you are making from your spore prints will determine how much water you will need. Multiply the volume of the syringes by the number of syringes and add on 3ml for good measure to take into account for difficulty getting every last drop of your spore solution out of the flask/ mason jar.
Before we go through the process of making a spore syringe, lets look at a couple of questions worth considering before we get started.
How many spore syringes can I make with a spore print?
This really comes down to personal preference as in reality each spore print is loaded with millions of spores. Another factor is the density and size of the spore print. As a general guide we would advise that one small (approximately 1cm diameter) and fairly faint print will only be good for one 10ml syringe while a larger dense print could create 30 x 10ml spore syringes. The personal preference comes in as some people like spore syringes that are loaded with spores so that they can physically see the spores without using a microscope. Use your own judgement.
Why use a mason jar instead of a flask?
Although a laboratory flask looks fancy and professional we prefer using a mason jar for the following reasons. It is easier to scrape the spores into a mason jar because the mouth is wider. By the same token you do not have to worry about how tall the mason jar is as the mouth is wide enough to get your syringe and hand into a mason jar to draw the spore solution out. If you use a flask, and your needle is not long enough, it is very awkward trying to draw your spore solution out.
Time to make your spore syringes!
Put the distilled water into your flask/ jar and cover the top with tin foil. Put your jar into your pressure cooker, wait for the pressure cooker to reach 15psi before leaving for 30 minutes. Once your distilled water has finished sterilising we need to leave it to cool down to room temperature before we can begin making our spore syringes. Putting your spores in hot water will kill them off and make them inactive – not very productive!
In the mean time we can start preparing our area and equipment. We will be making the spore syringes in a still air box as these are very accessible. If you want to learn how to make this piece of equipment and why you would use it you can learn that here. Clean your still air box with 70% isopropyl alcohol and then spray with lysol/ dettol for good measure. Once the lysol/ dettol has settled, get your surgical mask and gloves on and give your gloves a clean with your 70% alcohol solution. Clean down the items you will be working with using the alcohol and place them in your SAB. These will include:
- The mason jar/ flask with water
- the back of the foil the spore print is on
Remove the sterile syringes you are using to fill with the spore solution and place them in the SAB along with the sterile needle and sterile syringe cap.
Once the sterile distilled water is down to room temperature we will be scraping the spores off the foil into the water using our scalpel. Before we do this we need to make sure our scalpel is sterile. Heat the scalpel blade in the SAB using a lighter, until it starts to glow red, then let it cool back down which will take roughly 20-30 seconds.
Take the foil off the top of the flask/ mason jar and take the spore print in one hand, exposing the spores so that we can scrape off the spores using the blade edge of the scalpel. Be careful while doing this and think of it more like brushing the spores off as we do not want to lacerate or tear the foil that the spore print is on. It helps to take the blade at a 45 degree angle to the spore print while scraping to help avoid tearing the foil of your print. Some of the spores will gather on the blade of the scalpel so it is useful to tap the scalpel on the mason jar to knock the excess spores into the water.
Once you are happy with the amount of spores you have transported into your water it is time to get the sterile needle on to your syringe to draw the spore solution up. The mushroom spores will most likely be sitting on the surface of the water like an oil slick so we will first be drawing some water up and then depositing it back into the mason jar to help disperse the spores evenly throughout the water. It is helpful to do this several times during the process of making your spore syringes if you are making multiple spore syringes. Once the spores are mixed through the water draw your spore water up, trying to avoid any air bubbles, and stick a syringe cap or needle on the end of your syringe.
Repeat for all the remaining syringes.
Once you have all your syringes made it is best to leave them for a couple of days before using to allow the spores to become fully hydrated.
Why make a spore syringe?
Spore syringes are a very convenient way of either cultivating mushrooms or looking at mushroom spores under a microscope for research purposes. If the spore syringes are made properly, the chances of contamination when cultivating mushrooms are reduced compared with using a liquid culture. The down side to using the spores rather than a liquid culture for cultivating mushrooms is the process takes a little bit longer as the mycelium has not started forming yet. The lack of mycelium is also a positive when it comes to researching mushrooms that contain psychoactive substances as you do not want to get into trouble with the law. To learn more about this you can read the article: Are spore syringes legal?
How to store a spore syringe
Spore syringes are best stored in a cool, dark and dry place. As an extra precaution you are best keeping them in a ziplock bag. You can place them in the fridge if you live in a warmer climate but do not put them in the freezer. Although spores freeze and thaw in nature, freezing in a water solution will kill your spores. For long term preservation spore prints are better so hold off making your spore syringes until you think you are likely to use them.
How long do spore syringes last?
There seems to be much debate and wide ranging guidelines on how long a spore syringe lasts. If stored in the correct conditions your spore syringe should last at least 6 months. That is not to say that your spore syringe will not be fine after a year or two, but the longer it is stored the more chance that the water will become contaminated with bacteria.