The Underground Astronaut

With Toby Kiers



The Underground Astronaut

Beneath our feet lies a mystery. A complex underground network of mycorrhizal fungi keeps our ecosystem alive by exchanging nutrients and carbon with almost all plants on Earth. Remarkably, no one knows exactly how these sophisticated and ancient systems operate, or how they are affected by climate change.


The Underground Astronaut follows evolutionary biologist Toby Kiers, named one of the 2022 TIME100 Next Innovators, on her quest to map the world’s fungi networks and understand their behaviour before it’s too late. A fragrant and urgent journey underground. “No fungi, no future.”


Toby Kiers
Marleine van der Werf
Italy, Netherlands
17 min
Portret Toby Kiers


Toby Kiers

Evolutionary biologist Toby Kiers’ groundbreaking research on fungi is drawing considerable attention from the international media, including Time Magazine and The New York Times. Her mission is to map all of the world’s unknown fungal networks. This is of critical importance because, according to Kiers, they are indispensable to our ecosystem and store large amounts of CO2 – a key weapon in our fight against global warming.

Kiers is a professor at the VU University Amsterdam and has won the Ammodo Science Award (2019), the E.O. Wilson Award for Natural History (2021) and an NWO Stairway to Impact Award (2022). She was named as one of the 22 scientists playing a crucial role in expanding our understanding of biodiversity by the UN Biodiversity Committee. Kiers is Executive Director and Chief Scientist at SPUN (The Society for the Protection of Underground Networks).


Still The Underground Astronaut


In 2021, Toby Kiers launched SPUN, an organisation that aims to protect and harness the mycorrhizal networks that regulate the earth’s climate and ecosystems. On their website you’ll find reports from their various expeditions, a world map of underground ecosystems and step-by-step guide on how to take soil samples, and more. 

Visit the SPUN website 

Ted Talk

Lessons from fungi on markets and economics

In 2019, Toby Kiers gave a Ted Talk about the trade of nutrients between mycorrhizal fungi, plants and trees. Their interdependent relationship is a perfect display of opportunism and market economics.