The Fascinating World of Fungi
You probably didn’t know mushrooms could be used to construct buildings and cure diseases. Mushrooms are being tested in innovative and imaginative ways to help society. Engineers, medical researchers, and designers are utilizing the natural abilities of various fungi for antibiotics, building materials, water filtration, toxic waste cleanup, pest abatement, textiles, and other purposes.
There are now many champions of fungi. Tradd Cotter is one of the most vocal. A mycologist and microbiologist, Cotter owns Mushroom Mountain, a research facility in South Carolina that focuses on testing potential applications for fungi. Describing how to train fungi on “gladiator plates,” Cotter explains that many fungi are so good at surviving that they are able to adapt in order to feed on otherwise toxic or non-biodegradable materials such as oil or plastics. The process is known as mycoremediation, taking in toxic compounds and reducing them to harmless ones. Mycoremediation has been sought after for oil cleanups and expedited composting. What’s more, the mushrooms that bloom from these cleanups are still a safe food source.
Other collaborations include working with fungi to create portable, lightweight, sustainable products for disaster relief and developing countries. Mushroom bricks are being tested as a building material that uses water as an adhesive agent. The blocks have been tested for durability, flame retardancy, strength, and flexibility. In disaster relief packages, other mushrooms may be used to attract and trap disease-carrying mosquitoes.
Mushroom Mountain and Clemson University are investigating medicinal uses as well—going so far as to create what could be a “pharmacy in a bag.” The theory is that by harnessing certain fungi’s ability to take in bacteria such as E. coli, researchers could train the fungi to sweat out metabolites that could combat an infection within 24 to 48 hours. Ideas continue to be tested, and those working with fungi are confident in the infinite possibilities for the versatile mushroom to solve modern problems.