Can the humble mushroom save life on earth? They have played a crucial role in creating life on earth trhough mycorrhizal symbiosis. Fungi, at about 500 million years of age, are among the first colonizers of land on earth. As mushrooms are breathers of oxygen and exhalers of CO2, this may make them the first land “animal” type of species, although fungi are in a unique class of their own.
Many believe that fungi, so important to the formation and health of soil, and so useful as an antibiotic, are extremely heroic potential helpers for the planet. This is because fungi which include not just mushrooms, but also yeast and mold, have amazing properties which remain under-appreciated.
Mycofiltration is a word that describes how the part of a fungus called mycelium can filter and purify water. The mycelium is the mostly invisible network of filaments that mesh in soil underground. They filter out toxic wastes and can even decontaminate some heavy metal toxins. They also are critical in forming soil by exchange of nutrients with plants, from which they extract carbon.
However, the idea of just producing “lab” mushrooms will never work for helping mushrooms purify the water supply apart from natural environments. Inter-connected watersheds, large riparian and lake areas, and especially old growth forests, are vital for the mycelium to do its cleansing, purification work. Other jobs of the mushrooms include being a valid food product and non-toxic pest control. They deter species such as termites and wood eating ants. What about using mushrooms in homeland security? Due to the powerful ability of fungi to combat biological weapons of disease and chemicals, mycologists are also investigating many ways to employ mushrooms in counter terrorism defenses.
If the world can end its addiction to fossil fuels, thereby making such terrorist threats a lot less likely, mushrooms can be further utilized as a fuel in and of themselves. Myconol is the name of a biologically based fuel such as ethanol, but without the high cost and waste involved. Myconol, being a fungus based fuel could do much to avoid the presently ever accelerating international energy crisis. The waste products produced in all efficient employment of mycelium outlined will result in the end product which could then come full circle, to be used as fuel.
Much more research and innovation must be done with fungi, to reap the vast rewards they offer. Mycologist Paul Stamets is doing his part to bring the wonders of fungi to the world. Mushrooms, or more accurately, fungi can cure disease by way of antibiotics such as penicillin, can purify water, can provide highly nutritious food, can work ten times more effectively than most insecticides, can help decontaminate waste, offer new clean and green alternatives for energy, and can fight terrorism, what more could one ask from a defender of earth?