Why Radical Mycology?
Access to mycological information is not easy. With a cultural view that fears fungi, a schooling system that undervalues them, and only a small number of courses on advanced mycology worldwide, it is easy to see why the fifth kingdom is so disregarded and misunderstood. As one of the youngest natural sciences, mycology (the study of fungi) has largely been kept in the hands of professionals since its development with much of the official work focusing simply on taxonomy and species edibility/toxicity. However, in the last few decades (and really just the last few years) the greater fungi have started to gain more acceptance and familiarity to those outside of academia as their uses beyond the dinner plate are starting to be realized.
It is surprising to note that most people do not realize that fungi are not only on, in and a part of all living (and once-living) things but that they play an extremely important role in the life cycle of plants as well. Acting like stewards of the forest, certain fungi create complex networks of “mycelium” (that white stuff you see when you pull back a decaying log) underground that serve to channel nutrients and water between plants and to help maintain the health of entire ecosystems. The fungi are also responsible for the decomposition of all woody material, turning dead plant matter in to fresh soil for new plants to thrive in. Without the fungi the world would be piled high in dead trees with no new ones growing.
In the last decade or so, mycologists have discovered that the same enzymes that fungi naturally produce to digest their food can also be used to break down toxic pollutants and petroleum products. Species have been discovered that can digest plastics, disposable diapers, motor oil, DDT, and Agent Orange as well as sequester and concentrate heavy metals out of polluted soil for later disposal. This emerging field of “mycoremediation” has only barely gained a foundation from which to grow on as in-depth research and experimentation in the last few years has been scant at best and suppressed at worst. As such a powerful ally in the fight to save the planet before ecological collapse, the fungi are now more worthy of investigation than ever before*. Thus, radical mycologists are organizing to foster a community of people interested in developing and implementing mycoremediative techniques to provide a resource for peer learning and encouragement.
Through the use of fungi to enact change, we are attempting to radically challenge assumptions about the importance of the fungal kingdom in an effort to help shift our relationship to the Earth toward greater harmony.
* This is not to say this information addresses the problem of eliminating the manufacturing of these products. Rather it provides a way to actually deal with existing problems alongside efforts to stop their proliferation.
(The above text is excerpted/adapted from the “Reportback on the first ever Radical Mycology Convergence”)
Mycoremediation is the use of fungi to break down or remove toxins from the environment.
Mycoremediation practices involve mixing mycelium (the vegetative part of a fungus) into contaminated soil, placing mycelial mats over toxic sites, or a combination of these techniques, in one or more treatments. The lead researcher in this field is mycologist Paul Stamets. The information presented in this document comes from his book “Mycelium Running -How Mushrooms Can Save the World”.
Fungi can be thought of as the primary governors of ecological equilibrium because they control the flow of nutrients. The strength and health of any ecosystem is a direct measure of its divers fungal populations and their interaction with other organisms such as plants insects and bacteria. Using fungi as the starter species in a bioremediation project sets the stage for other organisms to participate in the rehabilitation process. Once toxic barriers are removed by specific mushrooms, a synergy between at least 4 kingdoms (fungus, plant, bacterium, and animal) enters the habitat and denatures toxins into derivatives that are useful to many species and fatal to few species. The introduction of a single fungus into a nearly lifeless landscape triggers a flow of activity by other organism and begins to replenish the ecosystem.
Mycoremediation is an economically and environmentally sound alternative to extracting, transporting and storing toxic waste. It restores value to depleted land. The current policy concerning toxic waste removal/clean up prescribes burning, hauling, and/or burying the waste. The results of these processes do not get rid of the waste or restore the ecology, but cripple it and leave it lifeless. Toxins in our food chain (including mercury, PCB’s, and dioxins) become more concentrated at each step, with those at the top being contaminated by ingesting toxins consumed by those lower on the food chain. Mycelia can destroy these toxins in the soil before they enter our food supply.
Researchers have been able to customize strains of mushrooms to neutralize toxic weapons and waste. Research is being done to use mycoremediation in the field of national defense against chemical and biological warfare. This also births the opportunity to use mycoremediation to help mend war-torn environments.
Fungi are proficient molecular disassemblers breaking down long chained toxins into simpler less toxic chemicals. They remove heavy metals from land by channeling them to fruit bodies for removal. they essentially use and digest these toxins as nutrients. Mycelial enzymes can decompose some of the most resistant materials made by humans or nature, because many of the bonds that hold plant material together are similar to the bonds found in petroleum products including diesal, oil, and many herbicides and pesticides. these toxins also including textile dyes, estrogen-based pharmaceuticals and etc.. are vulnerable to enzymes secreted by the mycelia. some mushroom species can degrade several of these, while other are more selective.