Can mushrooms save the world? It appears one of least appreciated kingdoms in the natural world will prove to be one of the most important. The Bioneer Speaker Series recently presented a talk by Paul Stamets, an American mycologist, author, and advocate of bioremediation and medicinal mushrooms. In his talk, Paul highlights how mushrooms serve many more functions than simply providing a tasty pizza topping. Mycelium, the root like structure that absorbs nutrients and spawns the fruiting bodies known as mushrooms, consists of an amazingly complex structure. Paul likens mycelium as the “natural internet” where information is sent between the cells that comprise its structure. When one cell discovers a new type of enzyme to help in the breakdown of its food (wood, plant matter, or a range of other materials), it sends out the information to the whole cell network. Fungi and their mycelium create new antibiotics and antivirals in much the same way. But that’s not all, the list of fungi accomplishments goes on:
- Studying the growth of slime molds helped optimize the Japanese subway system into a more efficient arrangement.
- After the Gulf oil spill, Mycelium growing in decomposable hemp buoys consumed hydrocarbons (oil) in water and break them down into harmless sugars.
- Mushrooms around Chernobyl concentrate radioactive Cesium during their growth. The mushrooms can then be picked and disposed of properly, removing the radiation from the environment.
- Agarikon, mushrooms that can live to be 100 years old, were studied to develop one of the most effective antiviral medications in the world: Fomitopsterols.
- In a clinical trial, Turkey Tail mushrooms were shown to increase the amount of essential white blood cells in women who had just undergone radiation and chemotherapy for breast cancer.
- On a recent trip to the Amazon, a group of Yale students recently discovered a type of mushroom with a voracious appetite for polyurethane, which is a common plastic used for many modern purposes, including shoes, garden hoses and other non-degenerating items. The fungi will even live in airless landfills.
If you’d like to learn more about mushrooms and all the interesting stuff they can do, check out Paul Stamets Bioneer’s talk available here:
~ Thomas Schmidt