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Mushrooms: Magic Erasers for Toxic Pollution?

Mycofiltration–  a process that uses fungi to filter out harmful substances– is becoming a new standard for environmental clean-up operations.




Best known for being tasty, toxic or hallucinogenic, the humble mushroom is now attracting attention as a potential multidimensional  savior: a biological processor and cleanser of low-grade uranium, oil spills, sewage runoff, and even PCBs. Some evidence also suggests that fungi can control insect pests and treat ailments ranging from cancer and bird flu to diabetes and dementia. Penicillin, after all, is derived from a fungus.



While various researchers are now looking into the beneficial applications of fungi, fungus researcher, or “mycologist,” Paul Stamets has long been leading the charge in this crusade.  Stamets runs a mushroom farm and a laboratory in Washington State and spends a good deal of time lecturing fungus aficionados and mycotechnologists at his own farm as well as at the Hollyhock Lifelong Learning Center in Canada.


Stamets and his followers have many projects in the works. He has come up with mushroom-based strategy for cleaning up radiation at the Fukushima plant that Japanese officials are giving serious consideration to. Last year, the EPA awarded the mushroom specialist $80,000 to design a mycofiltration system for managing storm water runoff.


In Ecuador, the nonprofit Amazon Mycorenewal Project, run by an alumna of Stamets’ seminars, plans to use mushrooms to clean up oil waste left by drillers. NewFields, an international environmental consulting firm, has adapted some of Stamets’ pioneering technology to improve polluted soil. In New York, plans are underway to clean up a toxic waste site with special mycobooms, and in Massachusetts a mycofilter designed by Stanets is being used to clean petrochemicals from an old mill canal.


The science behind these many innovations rests chiefly in the fact that fungi grow from a single long thread of cells, mycelium, which is a natural factory for processing all sorts of organic and chemical compounds. As Stamets explains it, “Our bodies and our environs are habitats with immune systems… (fungi) are a common bridge between the two.”


What You Can Do


Learn More about the many miraculous benefits of fungi by visiting Stamets’ website Fungi Perfecti.


Watch and Share Stamets' TED talk: Six Ways Mushrooms Could Save the World