Everyone seems to be wild about mushrooms right now. Some even go so far as to say they are going to save the planet.
So, what's all the fuss about?
Well, founder of Ecovative,Eben Bayer, thinks mycelium - the fungus mushrooms are made from - is "nature's glue" and can be used to drive sustainable innovation. Many individuals, scientists, companies and start-ups are harnessing the power of mycelium to create sustainable alternatives to everyday items or as solutions to many environmental problems we are currently facing.
Start-ups are using mushrooms to tackle almost every aspect of our lives from what we wear, to what we eat and even to what we live in. Mushrooms have been used to create vegan leather, build houses, offer sustainable alternatives to plastic packaging, clean up oil spills and remove toxic debris after severe wildfires and to make vegan meat!
MycoWorks is using mushrooms to make lightweight bricks which can be used to make inexpensive but durable buildings. Ecovative Design is using mycelium as a bonding agent to hold together wood particles for panelling, as well as lightweight styrofoam. Not only is it being used for sustainable purposes, but it's also being used to improve health.
But why mushrooms?
The unique functions of mushrooms are unlike anything else in the natural world. According to Paul Stamets, one of the world's leading mycologists (someone who studies mushrooms and their root structure known as mycelium), "under the soil everywhere on Earth is the largest network of organism-to-organism communication—the natural Internet" and this natural internet - which is mycelium - has the ability to do many things like boost human immunity, clean up oil spills and even protect humans from disease outbreaks.
According toHow Stuff Works,
For Peter McCoy, the author of "Radical Mycology: A Treatise on Seeing and Working with Fungi," it's strange that it has taken so long for fungi to gain attention given their status in nature. As neither plants nor bacteria nor animals, they can do certain things in the environment none of those groups can do, says McCoy, who is also the founder of a grassroots group working to spread awareness about the fungi field.
One unique function is that their threadlike tissue grows fast and in tight networks, lending itself to light and strong material suitable for a range of purposes. But perhaps even more important, McCoy says, is that they produce a cocktail of chemicals when digesting food or protecting themselves.
"That chemical soup ― which will vary by species or even the environment they're in ― leads to a whole range of compounds that we don't find anywhere else in the natural world," says McCoy, pointing to penicillin as an example of the powerful substances they generate. "Fungi are nature's greatest chemists.
Well, now that people are catching on to the widespread benefits of mushrooms and mycelium, we can probably expect more innovations and fungus-inspired breakthroughs in the future. There's not necessarily a consensus on whether they are going to "save the planet" but it looks like they can definitely help, and that's exciting!