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August 13, 2018 | by  | in Environment |
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In Our Environment

Shrooms to save the world
Fungi is a fuzzy rotting peach. It’s a ring of toadstools sprung up one morning on a dewy lawn. It’s rich, living, slightly pungent. It’s the rhythm of growth and death.
Fungus-like forms colonised land 6 million years ago, long before plants. Fungi (apparently pronounced fun-ji) are more closely related to animals than to plants, which perhaps explains why they dislike the same pathogens as us. It’s because of shared biological distates that we can harness antibiotic and antiviral medicine from fungus. Penicillin for example, is a blue-green mould. The healing properties have been shown to extend to cancer and dementia. Like an apple on a tree, mushrooms are the fruit of reproductive mycelium. Kick a rotten log over and the webby white fuzz you’ll see is mycelium. This is the vegetative, root-like structure of fine threads.
Mycelium is omnipresent in almost all soil, finely celled and out of sight. Each trail of cells is structured in an interconnected, complex arrangement. It sprawls in a pattern that resembles the internet or the neurological network. A mycelium mat is the largest organism inthe world. A single honey fungus in Oregon, one cell thick, is woven under 2,385 acres of forest.

Mycelium is an intelligent and responsive system, responsible for energy cycling in ecosystems. By breaking down matter, the threads turns things into biologically accessible nutrients and soil.
Fungus is the guardian of the forest. In a performance of soil magic, trees use mycelium as an organic information sharing system. Stressed and deprived trees will send out signals. In response, mycelium transports supplies, such as water, carbon, and nitrogen among the ecosystem. Fungus is also deeply in tune with the health of an ecosystem. When something is amiss in a forest for example, fungus will ravage the weak or diseased trees. It breaks down the debris to rebalance nutrients in the soil, and ensure a stronger forest will regenerate when the time is right.
The most ardent evangelist of mushrooms is Paul Stamets. He’s the world’s leading mycologist. Paul believes that mushrooms will save the world — and with good reason too.
Mushrooms are a solution to septic waterways. Planted around water, they have the power to filter through pollution, including E.coli. White rot can remediate soil contaminated by oil spills. In an experiment conducted by Stamets, various mounds of soil were doused in oil, and mycelium was added to some. The myceliated samples were light brown, sweet-smelling, and bursting with mushrooms. Insects came to eat the fungi, and their larvae attracted birds, who deposited seeds. After nine weeks, the pile was covered with flourishing plants while the other pile was dead. Stamet is currently using mycelium to tackle radioactive contamination at Fukushima. That’s right, shrooms can eat radioactive waste.
The company Ecovative has leveraged the power of mycelium to make packaging. Mycelium eats agricultural waste and creates a solid matrix in any trained shape. It takes on the same properties as polystyrene — fire and water resistant and very strong. Unlike plastic, mycelium does not depend on the extraction of fossil fuels, and is biodegradable.
Mycelium goes further than just replacing plastics. Its corrosive power can be used to consume toxic and persistent plastic. In 2012, Yale researchers found a rare mushroom hidden in the Amazon (Pestalotiopsis microspora) that was capable of breaking down polyurethane, the main ingredient in modern plastics. Since this discovery, Livin Studio has harnessed the fungus to revolutionize food production, while disposing of our otherwise indispensable mistake. By coating plastic in fungus spores, the fungus devours the plastic and fruits a perfectly edible mould. I believe that the intelligence that we are chasing in AI is already present biologically beneath our feet — though we don’t fully understand it. Perhaps before all else we should munch a handful of shrooms. Some cosmic contact may initiate the perspectival shift necessary to take mycelium seriously and find our future in fungus.

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