How Mushrooms Could Hold the Key to Our Long-Term Survival as a Species


Image:flickr.com/Conor Lawless. CC BY 2.0
The collapse of our planet’s natural ecosystem is accelerating, but it turns out nature may have already developed the technology to save us. And it’s right under our feet.


By Doug Bierend|MOTHERBOARD

Mycelium​ is the vast, cotton-like underground fungal network that mushrooms grow from—more than 2,000 acres of the stuff forms the largest known org​anism on Earth. Omnipresent in all soils the planet over, it holds together and literally makes soil through its power to decompose organic and inorganic compounds into nutrients. It has incredible powers to break up pollutants, filter water, and even treat disease, and it’s the star of a film called Fantastic Fungi that’s currently raisi​ng funds to bring awareness to how we can wield its many properties to save the world.

“Mycelium offers the best solutions for carbon sequestration, for preserving biodiversity, for reducing pollutants, and for offering us many of the medicines that we need today, both human and ecological,” says famed mycologist Paul Sta​mets, who’s the main voice of the film.

A regular keynote speakerat major think-a-thons like T​ED, Stamets has authored seve​ral seminal books on fungi, and done groundbreaking research on the medicinal, environmental, and ecological power of fungus with the likes of the Department of Defense, Environmental Protection Agency, and Centers for Disease Control. He’s also filed more pat​ents and research pa​pers than you can shake a mushroom stick at—not to mention that his signat​ure hat is made of fungus.

“Fungi, I think, hold the greatest potential solutions for overcoming the calamities that we face,” he says.

The apparent intelligence of mycelium lead Stamets call it “nature’s internet.” If a plant is harmed, mycelium tied up with its roots transmits the​ warning to other connected plants (turns out mo​st plant life is part fungus). It’s responsive, reacting immediately to disruptions in its environment to find a way to make it into food for itself and, thus, everything around it. Mycelium can also learn to consume compounds it’s never encountered before, breaking them down into nutrients for countless other organisms, and sharing the knowledge throughout its network.

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