How Mushrooms Can Save the World
By Margot Shellgren
Most days, opening a newspaper brings an overwhelming sense of dread. We learn everyday new ways we are killing ourselves, and our planet. From GMO’s in everything we eat to iPads destroying our children’s brains. It’s hard not to feel that we’ve doomed ourselves. Here are a few examples of recent headlines;
“Private Tests Show Cancer-Linked Herbicide in Breakfast Foods”– Huffington Post
“Global Warming: Human Factor Sets Record As Unanimous Cause of Climate Change” – Science World Report
“Daschle and Klain: We’re not ready for next Zika virus” – USA Today
However, thanks to science, we have some good news to enjoy while we eat our cancer laden breakfast.
Back in 2012, a group of Yale students traveled to the jungles of Ecuador. Their mission was simply to experience the process of scientific analysis creatively. The group searched for plants, and then cultured the microorganisms within the plant tissue. Turns out they discovered a fungus with an appetite for polyurethane, plastic.
One large problem we have been faced with, is that our planet is filling up with trash that does not decompose. Think about how much plastic you use in a single day. Plastics have been around for almost 150 years. The amount of garbage we have created is unfathomable, and unfortunately lasts forever. Or so we thought.
This newly discovered fungi, Pestalotiopsis microspora, can survive on a steady diet on polyurethane alone. Even better yet, they have discovered it can survive in an oxygen free environment. For example, the bottom of a landfill. Their discovery is quoted as “a promising source of biodiversity from which to screen for metabolic properties useful for bioremediation.”
Let’s fast forward to 2015. Many scientists have been trying to figure out how to use this incredible fungi on a global scale. Austrian designer Katharina Unger, with help from Julia Kaisinger and Utrecht University, has created the Fungi Mutarium. Here is how it works;
“The Fungi Mutarium is comprised of egg-shaped pods made with agar, a seaweed-based gelatin substitute, that serve as a base for fungi cultivation. The designers call these cups “FUs.” After loading them with plastic waste, fungi are introduced, and the mushrooms feed on the FUs’ starch and sugar along with the plastic. After a few months the plastic is gone, and in its place is a puffy edible substance.”
Check out this video to see the mushrooms in action.
So don’t despair. For every problem we have created, there is a team of people trying to solve it. In this case, it seems we are on to something big and possibly delicious. For more information on this topic visit:
This article is a summary of “Plastic Eating Mushrooms Could Save the World.” Written by Anna Roth on January 6, 2015 and “Fungi Discovered in the Amazon Will Eat Your Plastic” Written by Michael J. Coren on January 30, 2012.