For ages, man has eaten mushrooms as a gustatory delight, some even to the point of intoxication like medicine men and other people out for a good time. But there is more to these wonderful plants than meet the eye.
For one thing, they’re Mother Nature’s recyclers. After animals and plants die, they decompose them back to dust so that they can be used again to bring about new life. The stuff they decompose isn’t limited to plants and animals, though. They can also feed on plastic, just like the Pestalotiopsis microspora, a fungus discovered in the Ecuadorian Amazon that has an appetite for polyurethane.
And the Pestalotiopsis microspora is not alone in its earth saving abilities. Researchers have discovered fungi that absorb toxic heavy metals without suffering side effects, effectively removing these from the environment. There are even some mushrooms that will eat up radioactive waste and may be used to help remediate Fukushima.
Not only are mushrooms good for tearing down, surprisingly they can also be used to build things up, as the folks at MycoWorks have shown with their mycelium bricks.
The idea of a house made of mushrooms may sound a bit icky, but before you blame your itch on it, consider. Some of our houses are built with materials that aren’t exactly friendly on the environment. So when we demolish our buildings, or even just renovate a room, we throw out a lot of material that won’t degrade for decades, hence polluting the environment.
Not only are the mushroom bricks better for the environment, it turns out that they also have wonderful mechanical properties. You may be able to make your mark on it with just fingernail, but it’s also tough enough to take a bullet, or even a sledgehammer and a flame thrower. Plus, it’s great at muffling sounds, insulating against the heat, and it also floats on water. The greatest part is that all you need to make them are waste materials like pistachio hulls and mycelium then you’re good to grow your own bricks.
But why stop at building houses when you can actually build a whole planet? Mushrooms and their kind can actually make soil from rock, paving the way for other plants to grow.
So even as the USS Enterprise and its crew go out and explore new worlds, our world and the next will owe its life sustaining ability to these unassuming, weird and wonderful plants.