Magic mushrooms: Swiss scientist discovers fungus that makes wood fit for a Stradivarius.

Specialists have long speculated that it was the wood used to craft Stradivarius instruments, and not just the superb artistry of their maker, that gave the world’s most coveted and expensive violins their uniquely rich sound.

It is widely believed that the famous Italian luthier Antonio Stradivari used a rare, low-density wood that had grown in a cold period in the 17th century. While the same materials have never been available to modern instrument makers, Swiss scientist Francis W M R Schwarze has produced wood with similar properties by treating it with a special fungi, reports Science Daily. This, the sciencist claimed last week at the Symposium of the Max Delbrück Centre for Molecular Medicine, could be used to make violins that are indistinguishable in tone quality from their illustrious Italian predecessors.

Professor Schwarze discovered two species of fungi –  Physisporinus   vitreus and  Xylaria   longipes– which decay Norway spruce and sycamore trees commonly used in violin-making. “Normally fungi reduce the density of the wood, but at the same time they unfortunately reduce the speed with which the sound waves travel through the wood,” Schwarze explained.

“The unique feature of these...