Friday, 8 January 2010

Friday Fungus:The Great Mushroom Clean-Up! How fungi are helping clear up our mess!

Fungi have many uses – not only are they great food and essential to the production of bread and beer but they have applications in the “bioremediation” of oil spills.

The problem with oil spills is that the detergents used to clean up the shoreline and shallows following these disasters can be as damaging as the oil itself. Indeed there is some evidence that the recovery of untreated shoreline is as rapid as the recovery of treated shoreline. This is where mushrooms – with a little help from matted hair – come into play:

“In the aftermath of the Cosco Busan oil spill in San Francisco Bay last November, woven mats of human hair were used to absorb the oil from the beaches. Oyster mushrooms were layered between the oil-soaked mats and allowed to work their magic.

In just 12 weeks, the mushrooms consumed the oil and the hair, turning the whole mess into soil. When you think about the fact that the hair waste from salons usually goes into landfill and that oil from oil spills is generally incinerated after it’s cleaned up, this is an improvement on a massive scale”

Pretty impressive stuff – both as an example of recycling and also as a use for mushrooms. The search for applications for this mycological marvel continued and in Fort Bragg, California an experiment got under way to see if mushrooms could be used to remove dioxins and other contaminants from the soil. The project is led by Paul E. Stamets (pictured above), author of “Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World.” The mushrooms used were local and applied naturally:

“Quick to caution against easy remedies — “I am not a panacea for all their problems” — he said he had hope for cleaning up dioxin and other hazardous substances on the site. “The less recalcitrant toxins could be broken down within 10 years.”
At least two dioxin-degrading species of mushroom indigenous to the Northern California coast could work, he said: turkey tail and oyster mushrooms. Turkey tails have ruffled edges and are made into medicinal tea. Oyster mushrooms have domed tops and are frequently found in Asian food.”

Now there are some problems – this mushroom-based bioremediation is slow and many of the possible benefits remain unproven. However, given the amount of contaminated land and the environmental cost of current remediation methods (chiefly the removal of contaminated soil from the site and its dumping elsewhere), this mycological bioremediation represents real progress.

And Paul Stamets continues to make the case for the importance of fungi to the planet from his Fungi Perfecti business:

Covering most all landmasses on the planet are huge masses of fine filaments of living cells from a kingdom barely explored. More than 8 miles of these cells, called mycelia, can permeate a cubic inch of soil. Fungal mats are now known as the largest biological entities on the planet, with some individuals covering more than 20,000 acres. Growing outwards at one quarter to two inches per day, the momentum of mycelial mass from a single mushroom species staggers the imagination. These silent mycelial tsunamis affect all biological systems upon which they are dependent. As they mature and die back, panoply of other fungi quickly come into play. Every ounce of soil does not host just one species, but literally thousands of species of fungi. Of the estimated 1–2 million species of fungi—about 150,000 species being mushrooms—we have catalogued only about 50,000, of which 14,000 have been identified with a species name. The genetic diversity of fungi is vast by design, and apparently crucial for life to continue.”

Put simply mushrooms are essential to the creation and maintenance of soil – we should cherish and encourage fungi. Without them the world would be a barren – and less tasty – place.


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