Magic Mushrooms

 The Growing Lab. Picture: Maurizio Montalti.

The Growing Lab. Picture: Maurizio Montalti.

The humble fungi is finding its place in all manner of innovative eco-design, materials, medicine, cleaning products, textiles, biofuels, packaging.

The advantages are endless: mushrooms grow quickly, they grow locally, they create no carbon emissions or waste - and at the end of life, they biodegrate. They also have the potential to replace a lot of items traditionally made in plastic.

Win, win, win. Here are eight ways that mushrooms could save the world.

TO MAKE HOMEWARE

Bowls, lampshades and a chair are also among the everyday objects that artist Maurizio Montalti has been fashioning from various fungi. San Francisco artist, biotech explorer and co-founder of MycoWork Phillip Ross uses mycelia to make chairs and small items, including the dramatic Yamanaka McQueen, named for the fashion designer who was also inspired by grotesque natural shapes.

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Phillip Ross' chair bodies, pictured here, the Yamanaka McQueen, are grown from sawdust and tree fungus.

 

AS A BUILDING MATERIAL

Brunel University student Aleksi Vesaluoma mixed mycelium with cardboard to explore how mushrooms can be used to grow robust zero-waste structures. Phillip Ross has a pending patent for “mycelium process engineering,” which he uses to make cheap, lightweight durable bricks. Ecovative Design uses mycelium as a bonding agent to hold together wood particles for paneling, as well as for a durable, flame-retardant, and lightweight packaging. It has sells mushroom and hemp-growing kits that turn into beautiful pendant lamp shades, bowls, planters, and even packaging.

TO FIGHT SUPERBUGS

When faced with a bacteria that’s resistant to current medications, Tamara McNealy, a professor of biology at Clemson, gives them to certain fungi, which then sweat out what she hopes can be a treatment specific to that pathogen.

AS A TEXTILE

If anything can replace leather, it has my vote; processing and production is devastatingly toxic and the slaughter of cows in cheap, un-animal-welfare-friendly countries to make leather is brutal - and often live. Ross (him again) uses mushroom skin to produce fabrics that look and feel like cow, snake, and ostrich skins. With help from the Myco Design Lab, designer Aniela Hoitink has also used mycelium to create a dress.

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The dress by Hoitink is compostable.

TO MOP UP POLLUTION

Mushrooms can turn petroleum and other pollutants back into inert matter, making them ideal for clearing up oil spills. Quite a skill, as discovered by mycologist Paul Stamets (author of Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World).

Mushrooms can also be used to filter out toxins and bacteria from farm waste and absorb cellulose, the main component of disposable diapers. Mushrooms: loves the jobs you hate.

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Vesaluoma’s Grown Structures use mycelium mixed with cardboard which is then moulded into ‘mushroom sausages’.

AS FERTILIZERS

Stamets’ company, Fungi Perfecti, also produces Mycogrow, an alternative to phosphate fertilizers. The mushrooms form symbiotic relationships with the planets to acquire more nutrients for their root systems. All heart.

AS AN ECO-ALTERNATIVE TO PACKAGING

Ecovative Design (see pendant lights, above) bakes a mix of vegetable husks and mushroom spores to create Restore Mushroom Packaging, a biodegradable option to the synthetic polymer known as polystyrene.