In the Ted Talk made by Paul Stamets, titled “6 Ways Mushrooms can Save the World” Paul Stamets exemplifies the importance of fungi. He describes the possibilities of fungi fighting back against pollution. Paul and his group of mycologists conducted an experiment in which there were four piles of waste, filled with diesel, petroleum, and other common pollutants. They inoculated mycelium of Oyster mushrooms in one pile, left it for six weeks, and returned to see what had unspooled.
“Hundreds of pounds of Oyster mushrooms had covered the pile” (Stamets, 2008), and the mycelium had saturated the oil. They recognized that enzymes within the vegetative part of the fungi, aka the mycelium, had remanufactured the polluted waste into fungal sugars in order to grow. And on top of all of this, once the fungi had sporulated, it unlocked doors for all kinds of biodiversity to web together. The “spores attract insects, the insects laid eggs, eggs became larvae. Birds then came, bringing in seeds, and our pile became an oasis of life.” Futhermore, “the aromatic hydrocarbons — went from 10,000 parts per million to less than 200 in eight weeks.”
In an article published by New Food Economy, research trials were conducted with this same species of mushrooms that Stamets had used (Pleurotus sp) after California fires raised havoc. These fires burned countless amounts of hazordous waste. This toxic ash was a major cause for concern, especially in water ways. After much of the toxic waste had been cleaned up in a traditional manor of scraping up the polluted earth and incinerating it, a group of people eco-activists, remediation experts and local businesses decided to place straw filled tubes inoculated with Oyster mushroom spawn in areas like parking lots. Their goal was to prevent the erosion of this toxic ash. As the fungi accumulates the toxicities, it converts them to less harmful compounds. As the mushrooms decompose these toxic substances, they also add back into the soil fertility. Habitat recovery has new solutions now.
During the devestating BP oil spill of 2010, Fungi Perfecti examined fungi remediation technology to clean up Puget Sound. Straw was inoculated with Pleurotus sp. yet again and was able to float in the polluted water. Oil contains many carcinogens and various enzymes within that the Oyster mushrooms were able to break down. Their abilities are extraordinary when it comes to remediation. It was discovered that spring inoculations, as well as more aged Oyster mycelium was more effective in breaking down the substances to less lethal levels. It is also observed that fungi that is native to a given area, is more effective at this remediation process.
All of these people who used fungi as a means of ecological restoration were either small organizations, everyday people, and volunteers. As a science, mycology is still incredibly young. It isn’t nearly as explored as many other fields of the natural world. It is only just being discovered in many ways. As we go forward, mycoremediation with species like Pleurotus could become such a great form of renewing a polluted landscape. And along with mycologists, it will likely be everyday people who propel these technologies forward. The answers don’t have to be complicated…it all starts with growing mushrooms.
Oil spills, forest fires, pollution in our waterways…Unfortunately these are all things that will become more and more prevalent. Think of the myriad of implications that this could have for these issues. Land that has been abused for years has the potential to become lively again, ultimately providing plants, animals, and ecology with a better place to live in. The simple growth and implementation of fungi is a simple start to achieving balance in the land.
And of course it doesn’t stop there. Stamets goes on to describe that fungi can embody a watershed solution for many other challenges faced by our world such as “deterring unwanted pests, producing valuable medicine, and energy” (Stamets, 2008). The demand that we form a stronger relationship with fungi technology perpetuates as the questionable health of the the land around us dawns.
“While sinister actors like root rot, rust mold, and blight make the news headlines, the truth is that fungi form an essential underpinning of the natural world”. Can the nature of fungi give people the ingenuity to honour the Earth once again amidst their lives? Potential prevails, but the biggest question is how fast this awareness can grow. This incredible process of remediation through growing mushrooms starts with a single person.
Stamets states, “If every organism had a right to vote, would we be voted on the planet, or off the planet? I think that vote is occurring right now”.
- Stamets, P. (2005) Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World. Ten Speed Press.
- Rhodes, C. Energy Balance. (2014) Mycoremediation (Bioremediation with Fungi). Growing Mushrooms to Clean the Earth. A Mini Review.
- Fungi Perfecti, Stamets P. The Petroleum Problem. 2010
- Stamets, P. 6 Ways Mushrooms Can Save the World. Ted Talk