MultiFUNGtionality – hidden properties of fungi

Written by Maja Bartczak

Posted on 24/10/21

Have you ever thought about the role fungi play in our lives? For sure, most of us try to avoid fungi at all costs, no one wants to have a fungal infection on their feet nor mold in their house or on their food. However, have you ever wondered about how fungi can be used in climate change and sustainability? Hopefully, by the end of this blog post, you will change your mind about fungi and stop avoiding some of them!

Fungi, including yeasts, molds and more common to people mushrooms, are classified as a separate kingdom in the biological taxonomy. There are millions of different species of fungi, most of them still undiscovered and undefined. With millions of species, there are a variety of ways in which we can use fungi. Fungi are used in different sectors, from medicine to climate change!

Fungi and plastic pollution

In 2012, a group of Yale students discovered a species of fungi that can grow on plastic. Pestalotiopis microspore was discovered in the Ecuadorian Amazon Forest, and it is capable of digesting and breaking down plastic, even in anaerobic environment (that is, in an environment deprived of oxygen). Ever since the discovery of this species, there was one more discovery of species that can break down plastic and that is perfectly edible for humans – oyster mushrooms. In fact, oyster mushrooms can grow on heavily polluted soils by breaking down the chemicals.

180 kilometers away from Maastricht, Kathrina Unger, in partnership with Livin Studio and Utrecht University, has developed a fungi product that grows on plastic waste. Fungi Mutarium is a prototype invention in which fungi grows and digests plastic matter and as a result it produces an edible fungal biomass.

Fungi that can digest plastic can help the planet with the fight against plastic pollution. Annually, almost 8 million waste of plastic enters seas and oceans, where it is further broken down to microplastic that in turn enters our food chain through seafood. The Yale students who discovered the species of fungi that can grow on plastic assumed that not only it can be used in major dump yards, but also in every household setting, allowing all citizens to eliminate their plastic waste on their own.

Fungi and climate change

In 2013, a Swedish study on Boreal Forest was published that found that it was in fact fungi, and not plant matter, that is able to trap a considerable amount of carbon dioxide. The Swedish scientists found that fungi that live on and/or in tree roots are responsible for seizing most of the carbon due to discovery of new deposits of carbon being located in deeper levels of soils.

Two researchers from Boston University found that forests’ ability to seize carbon pollution is enhanced when a specific type of fungi is present – mycorrhizal fungi. More importantly, they found that ectomycorrhizal fungi, part of mycorrhizal fungi category, can help trees to absorb carbon dioxide even faster!

Fungi and the industry

Adidas and IKEA have used fungi to develop their new sustainable products! At the beginning of 2021, Adidas revealed that it has been working on vegan shoes made from biodegradable fungi-based leather. It is not clear when the shoes will be made available, nevertheless it is one of many brand’s ideas in their new sustainability policy.

Almost all packaging that is used for all retail products is made from plastic. To fight the plastic pollution, IKEA has started using packaging from EcoCradle, a mushroom-based packaging for its products, which decomposes within weeks. The packaging is not only cost-effective, but also almost as durable as plastic.

Sources

Colin Averill, Jennifer M. Bhatnagar (2018), Four Things to Know about Fungi “Climate Warriors”, available: https://www.bu.edu/articles/2018/4-things-to-know-about-fungi-climate-warriors/ 

 

Livin Studio, Fungi Mutarium, http://www.livinstudio.com/fungi-mutarium 

 

Stanton M. Chapman (2020), New Mushrooms have been Discovered that Can Eat Plastic, available: http://www.fungal-futures.com/new-mushrooms-have-been-discovered-that-can-eat-plastic/ 

 

We don’t have time (2018), IKEA Starts Using Biodegradable Mushroom-Based Packaging for Its Products, available: https://medium.com/wedonthavetime/ikea-starts-using-biodegradable-mushroom-based-packaging-for-its-products-42d079f98bb1 

 

Vegconomist (2021), Adidas to Launch Vegan Shoes Made with Mushroom Leather, available: https://vegconomist.com/fashion-und-beauty/adidas-to-launch-vegan-shoes-made-with-mushroom-leather/ 


Bob Yirka (2013), Study finds fungi, not plant matter, responsible for most carbon sequestration in northern forests, available: https://phys.org/news/2013-03-fungi-responsible-carbon-sequestration-northern.html

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