How Mushrooms Can Save the World
While superheroes save the world on screen, in real life the responsibility falls on the humble shoulders of mushrooms!
These highly under appreciated gifts of Mother Nature might emerge as the secret weapon that can save our planet.
Fungi have already made a mark as a delicious food, a healthy supplement, and a parent source of the antibiotic penicillin, but scientists are constantly uncovering more secrets and discovering countless uses that can benefit humanity and the environment, now and in the future.
Unprecedented floods, droughts, landslides, and other extreme climatic changes can cause eco-anxiety. Are you worried about the future of the earth? This article will give you hope.
Why Mushrooms Are Unique?
Undoubtedly, mushrooms are one of Mother Earth’s most remarkable creations. They don’t just appear during the rainy season; in fact, scientists claim that there are over 6 million species of fungi, and they can be found everywhere!
Before delving into the eco-protective properties of mushrooms, let’s explore some fascinating facts about them.
- Fungus is one of the five fundamental kingdoms of life and can withstand extreme temperatures, vacuum, and radiation.
- They can thrive on and in bodies, soil, air, trees, and water.
- Uncooked edible mushrooms are difficult to digest, but both cooked and uncooked mushrooms contain essential vitamins, minerals, fiber, and several healthy compounds.
- From Native Americans to Chinese civilizations and from Greek philosophers to Indian yogis, ancient cultures have utilized mushrooms for various purposes.
- Studies have suggested that certain mushroom extracts and compounds can enhance the effectiveness of chemotherapy and radiation while minimizing their side effects. Mushrooms may be considered an effective adjuvant to conventional cancer treatments.
How Mushrooms Can Open the Door for an Eco-Friendly, Sustainable Future?
- Mushrooms as Construction Material
Concrete is a widely used resource, with demand second only to water.1
However, cement - a key component of concrete - is responsible for a significant portion of total CO2 emissions. Specifically, cement is estimated to account for 7-8% of the world’s carbon footprint.2
As a result, scientists and researchers are exploring new ways to reduce cement use in construction.
One of the most promising approaches involves replacing some amount of cement with mycelium cement, a substance created from the root-like structure of fungi.
By feeding mushrooms with various foods, scientists are growing mycelium that is strong enough to replace cement in concrete.
In the near future, mycelium combined with wood shavings and agricultural waste could replace traditional bricks in the construction industry.
While this technology is still in the early stages of development, researchers believe that mushroom bricks will be stronger and more durable than other green alternatives such as straw and hemp bricks.
Additionally, mushroom bricks will be lightweight and biodegradable, offering numerous advantages over traditional construction materials.
Mushroom-based construction materials can be used for various purposes, such as soundproofing and home insulation.3
In fact, many experts predict that mushrooms could soon become a cornerstone of sustainable construction, helping to reduce the environmental impact of the industry while offering innovative, high-performance building solutions.
- Mushrooms as Packaging Material
Mycelium, the root-like structure of fungi, is emerging as a promising solution to the problem of unsustainable packaging materials like PLASTIC!
Large corporations like Dell, IKEA, and others have launched initiatives to replace polystyrene with more sustainable alternatives.4 Polystyrene-based packaging materials, such as Styrofoam, are a major source of pollution in the oceans, harming marine life and threatening public health by entering the food chain. At Mush More Co, we are dedicated to being 100% plastic-free.
Moreover, polystyrene materials do not biodegrade, and as a result, they take up as much as 30% of space in landfills. As they slowly break down, they become easy fodder for livestock that roam these sites.5,6
As a result, e-commerce companies and other businesses are gradually shifting to mycelium blocks as an eco-friendly packing solution that emits 90% less CO2 than traditional packaging.
The market for eco-friendly packaging materials currently represents only 1% of the total market share, but experts predict that the industry will reach a value of $142 billion in the coming years.
Using mycelium as a 100% biodegradable packing material offers many advantages over traditional packaging materials. It is environmentally sustainable, non-toxic, and can be grown from agricultural waste. How cool is that?
- Mushrooms for a Greener Planet
While mushrooms and other fungi are often overlooked, they are playing a critical role in promoting a greener planet.
Fungi can boost green cover by promoting the growth of trees and improving plant health. In fact, almost all plants require fungi to properly absorb water and nutrients.
Fungi and plants have a mutually beneficial relationship. Fungi help to decompose leaf litter, dead wood, and other organic material on the forest floor.
The nutrients released during this process increase soil fertility, which in turn promotes the growth of healthy trees.
Additionally, fungi present in tree roots help to absorb water and nutrients from the soil. In exchange for their services, plants provide fungi with 20% of the sugars they produce.
Research into the relationship between fungi and plants can help to inform new strategies for forest management and conservation. In particular, by better understanding the role of fungi in forest ecosystems, we can help to protect the planet and promote a more sustainable future. To thank the planet for these super mushrooms, each Mush More Co product sold plants a SeaTree. Why? Because mangroves can store up to 10 times more carbon than our rainforests!
- Mushroom as Vegan Leather and Other Biomaterials
Animal leather is a significant component of the fashion industry, generating billions of dollars annually. However, it is also a major contributor to global warming and environmental pollution.
Leather is mostly derived from cows, pigs, sheep, and other animals that release greenhouse gases, with cattle being the most significant emitters.
Furthermore, the leather industry relies on toxic chemicals that pollute the environment.
In contrast, vegan leather, which is produced from mushroom mycelium, is a new and environmentally-friendly alternative. The fashion industry has already found numerous applications for the innovative fabric.
Mushroom leather can be created from a variety of fungi and cultivated in different substrates, resulting in eco-friendly fabric of varying textures and colors.7
Mushroom-based leather and fabrics are recyclable and biodegradable, making them a much more sustainable option. Rather than harming the environment, they help to preserve it. We absolutely love everything biodegradable and compostable – even our subscribers get their monthly organic mushroom gummies delivered in a fully compostable pouch!
As more consumers become aware of the environmental impact of their fashion choices, we can expect to see an increase in demand for vegan leather and other sustainable alternatives. This trend will not only benefit the planet but will also stimulate innovation in the fashion industry.
- Bioremediation or Mushrooms to Solve the Plastic Problem
Earlier, we discussed the significant role of fungi in breaking down organic materials such as dry leaves, tree bark, and others.
However, recent research has shown that mushrooms have an even more impressive ability - they can break down plastic, oil, and even reverse the damage caused by radiation.
Unlike man-made compounds, very few naturally occurring organisms can break down plastic. But certain fungi belonging to the Aspergillus group can decompose plastic waste in a matter of weeks, which is significantly faster than the decades that it takes for polyurethane to break down completely.
Oyster mushrooms and other fungi release enzymes that break down petroleum hydrocarbons, which makes them an effective tool for cleaning up oil spills.
Moreover, some fungi species have shown the ability to absorb heavy metals like mercury. Fungi can thus play a critical role in cleaning up polluted sites, reducing the hazardous impact of industrial waste, and reversing the damage caused by human activities on the environment.
- Mushrooms to Fight Climate Change
To achieve a fulfilling life, humans must make use of their environment, though this often results in unintended negative consequences.
However, nature provides mechanisms such as forests that can act as carbon sinks, holding up to twice as much CO2 as the atmosphere.
Additionally, forests are crucial for regulating global rainfall and temperature, as well as providing livelihoods for billions of people.
Mushrooms are essential in maintaining the health of forests. They serve as protectors, enriching the soil and supporting tree growth by preventing harmful pests and microorganisms from damaging the forest.
Mycorrhizal fungi also aid in CO2 absorption, making forests more effective at sequestering carbon. Certain fungi species also work to slow down carbon dioxide release from forest soil, which contributes to the role of forests as important carbon sinks.8
While chemical fertilizers have increased crop yields, they have also caused an increase in CO2 and non-CO2 greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Additionally, these fertilizers result in only 50% of nitrogen being absorbed by plants, leading to an increase in NO2 levels in the atmosphere.
Researchers are now exploring the use of fungi as an eco-friendly alternative to traditional fertilizers. Bio-fertilizers made using Arbuscular mycorrhiza (AM) show promise in reducing CO2 levels and improving soil fertility.9
- Mushrooms as Lifesaving Drugs
Throughout history, mushrooms and other fungi have been utilized for their medicinal properties in various parts of Asia and South America.
Today, we owe many modern medicines to the discoveries made from fungi. Alexander Fleming’s extraction of Penicillium rubens led to the development of the first antibiotic, penicillin.
Aspergillus terreus is the source of the cholesterol-reducing drug lovastatin, and Tolypocladium inflatum is the source of cyclosporine, a crucial immunosuppressive agent used in organ transplant procedures.
The medicinal properties of fungi that are known today are just the tip of the iceberg.
According to the data currently available, mushrooms produce 126 medicinal functions. But, this number could increase dramatically in the coming years!
Already numerous studies are devoted to learning about lectins, triterpenes, polysaccharides, and other active components in mushrooms.10 All of these beneficial compounds are found in our Mushie Power Bundle!
One area of great interest is the potential of medical mushrooms in cancer treatment. While the medicinal benefits of only a few dozen mushrooms have been studied so far, it’s estimated that there are over 6 million fungal species in the world, with only around 150,000 having been discovered.
The potential for fungi to be used in medicine is enormous and deserves further exploration.
- Mushrooms to Reduce Electronic Waste
From smartphones to smartwatches, and air conditioners to dishwashers, we can find electronic components in everything and everywhere. Electronic products have come to dominate our lives.
Nowadays, every week a new product is launched and the old one makes its way to the landfill. The amount of e-waste generated around the world is shocking. It’s already having a detrimental impact on health and the environment.
While several studies are underway to reduce the environmental impact of e-waste, one of the most promising is happening at Johannes Kepler University in Austria.
Researchers there have discovered that the mycelium of mushrooms could be used as a substrate in electronic circuits and other components.
The substrate material made of mycelium skin delivers high performance, similar to polymer microfoams, and outperforms other biomaterials.
The use of mycelium substrate as a replacement for plastic and other fossil-based components will result in fully biodegradable electronic components.11
Mushroom-based electronic components have the potential to reduce plastic usage in electronics and prevent the accumulation of e-waste.
They also prevent pollution of land, water, and air from the hazardous chemicals associated with conventional fossil-based electronic substrates.
The researchers at Johannes Kepler University are also exploring other applications for mycelium skins in electronics and are already working on using mycelium-based material as battery separators.
- Mushrooms as a Protective Shield Against Radiation and Biochemical Weapons
Mushrooms have a remarkable ability to grow and thrive even in extreme environmental conditions.
Scientists were surprised to find that certain mushroom species were able to survive and flourish in areas near the site of the Chernobyl nuclear accident.12
Researchers found that some of these melanin-producing mushrooms have developed protective mechanisms against radiation, and can convert radiation into energy to thrive in nutrient-poor conditions.13
In addition to their radiation-resistant properties, certain rare fungi species in North America and Europe have demonstrated the ability to act as a defense against anthrax bacteria and smallpox virus.14,15
These remarkable properties of mushrooms highlight their potential as a possible defense against radiation mishaps and biological warfare.
We have only one habitable planet, at least for now. The responsibility of safeguarding our natural wealth rests with all of us.
The diversity and versatility of mushrooms will help create a sustainable planet where the welfare of the people and the health of the environment will be given equal importance. Truly, mushrooms CAN save the world!
- Rodgers, Lucy. “Climate Change: The Massive CO2 Emitter You May Not Know About.”BBC News, BBC, 17 Dec. 2018, https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-46455844.
- Johanna Lehne Email Johanna . “Making Concrete Change: Innovation in Low-Carbon Cement and Concrete.”Chatham House – International Affairs Think Tank, 14 Dec. 2020, https://www.chathamhouse.org/2018/06/making-concrete-change-innovation-low-carbon-cement-and-concrete.
- “Buildings Made with Fungi Could Live, Grow - and Then Biodegrade | CBC News.”CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 26 Mar. 2021, https://www.cbc.ca/news/science/what-on-earth-mycelium-fungi-building-1.5963938.
- Time, We Don’t Have. “IKEA Starts Using Biodegradable Mushroom-Based Packaging for Its Products.”Medium, We Don't Have Time, 9 Jan. 2019, https://medium.com/wedonthavetime/ikea-starts-using-biodegradable-mushroom-based-packaging-for-its-products-42d079f98bb1.
- Is the 30-Year-Long Styrofoam War Nearing Its End? - JSTOR DAILY. https://daily.jstor.org/is-the-30-year-long-styrofoam-war-nearing-its-end/.
- Little, Mark. “Facts about Landfill & Styrofoam.”Sciencing, 2 July 2019, https://sciencing.com/facts-about-landfill-styrofoam-5176735.html.
- www.fibre2fashion.com. “Mushroom Leather Is More than a Sustainable Alternative to Animal Skin.”Fibre2Fashion, https://www.fibre2fashion.com/industry-article/8805/mushroom-leather-is-more-than-a-sustainable-alternative-to-animal-skin.
- Brown, Julia, et al. “Four Things to Know about Fungi ‘Climate Warriors.’”Boston University, 3 Aug. 2018, https://www.bu.edu/articles/2018/4-things-to-know-about-fungi-climate-warriors.
- “Friendly Fungi Help Forests Fight Climate Change.”BBC News, BBC, 18 June 2022, https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-61787248.
- Wasser, S.P. Medicinal mushroom science: History, current status, future trends, and unsolved problems, International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms. Begel House Inc. https://www.dl.begellhouse.com/journals/708ae68d64b17c52,7a925fcb5505d4dc,3ba1b0ce51e92e68.html.
- MycelioTronics: Fungal Mycelium Skin for Sustainable Electronics ...https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.add7118.
- “Chernobyl Fungus Eats Nuclear Radiation via Radiosynthesis.”Applied Sciences from Technology Networks, https://www.technologynetworks.com/applied-sciences/videos/chernobyl-fungus-eats-nuclear-radiation-via-radiosynthesis-338464.
- Glazebrook, Henry Tye. “Mushroom Cap and Shield: Using Fungi to Protect against Radiation.”News, 9 June 2017, https://news.usask.ca/articles/research/2017/mushroom-cap-and-shield-professor-uses-fungi-to-protect-against-radiation.php.
- Banse, Tom. “Smallpox Defense May Be Found in Mushrooms.”NPR, NPR, 3 Aug. 2006, https://www.npr.org/2006/08/03/4783951/smallpox-defense-may-be-found-in-mushrooms.
- “How Fungi Could Save the World.”World Economic Forum, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/08/10-surprising-facts-about-fungi/.