Mushrooms’ versatility stretches way beyond culinary use, which is where grassroots organisation Radical Mycology steps in to show how mushrooms and other fungi are not only known for their health benefits, but their environmental benefits too.
Fungi have been used to clean up oil pools in Ecuador and pesticides in Oregon creeks, and mushrooms alongside human hair were deployed to remove some of the 58,000 gallons of oil from San Francisco Bay during the 2007 COSCO-Busan oil spill.
Research has found that varieties of mushrooms, including oyster mushrooms, can be used to break down plastic.
It has long been known that fungi can degrade various forms of plastic, according to non-profit organisation Radical Mycology. On their website, Radical Mycology write: “A large-scale, real-world application of this ability has never been explored to any real depth. This may have been due to a variety of factors, one of which being that the chemical composition of many plastics is too complex for many fungi to readily digest. The plastic that composes cigarette filters, however, is of a rather simple composition and thus allows some common fungi to easily digest it.”
Although a large-scale application of plastic-eating mushrooms has yet to be deployed, it is an area where “citizen scientists” are taking it on board to do their own research.
Since 2006, the grassroots movement, Radical Mycology, has been raising awareness around the importance of mushrooms and other fungi for increasing the health of humans and the environment. Radical Mythology say: “As one of the youngest natural sciences, mycology is one of the few areas of science that anyone can actively contribute to, potentially with a significant impact. The ability to be a true ‘citizen scientist’ and add to the knowledge of future generations is a profound and empowering act that is not readily available in most other studies.”
In his own experiment, Radical Mycology founder Peter McCoy took one of the most common pollutants, cigarette butts, which are made from a type of plastic called cellulose acetate, to show how fungi can not only be trained to digest used cigarette filters but possibly the toxic chemicals that they harbour as well.
The methodology that Peter McCoy used to accomplish his goal was based on an understanding of the skills needed to “train” a fungus to digest a foreign substance. The mushroom cultivator must slowly introduce a new food source to a fungus so that the fungus can first determine and then produce the correct enzymes necessary to digest the novel substrate. According to Radical Mycology, this concept can also be applied to a range of toxins and industrial chemicals such as petroleum products, dioxins, dyes, and munitions.
Radical Mycology is a fantastic resource for anyone interested in working with fungi. It shares information and acts as a networking hub.
Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyle including sustainable and green living. She also offers content services to businesses and individuals at Rosamedea.com