Toby Kiers

In The Underground Astronaut



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
All eyes are on Toby Kiers as she maps the world’s underground fungal networks before it’s too late.
Portret Toby Kiers


Toby Kiers

Evolutionary biologist Toby Kiers’ (1976) 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 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.


  • Named one of 2022 TIME100 Next Emerging Leaders Shaping the Future
  • Executive Director and Chief Scientist at SPUN (The Society for the Protection of Underground Networks)
  • Winner of the Ammodo Science Award (2019), the E.O. Wilson Award for Natural History (2021) and an NWO Stairway to Impact Award (2022)
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. 


  • Portret Marleine van der Werf

    Marleine van der Werf

    Marleine van der Werf (1985) is a filmmaker/ artistic researcher with a documentary practice. In her films and multi-sensory installations she collaborates with scientists. Her projects have been shown at IDFA, Future of storytelling NY and Art Basel. In 2018 she won the Next Talent award and in 2019 she was selected as a European Talent for Science Media. In 2021 she became a Sundance Institute Interdisciplinary Program Grantee.