Good News of the Day: The Fungus Among Us

So this gentleman –and why not say it, gentle man– named Paul Stamets has been studying fungi for 30 years, has published a slew of seminal works, is one of the world’s most recognized mycologists and, by all accounts, he is one smart mushroom.

The first time one listens to Stamets giving his “6 Ways Fungi Can Save The Planet” speech –bottom, at a TED conference for smart mushrooms– the inevitable question that comes up is, was this guy studying mushrooms or eating them? Planet Earth’s internet? Giant mushrooms? Carpenter ants? What the…? Whoa, hold on… did he just say oil spill?

Original caption: The largest mushroom in North America? The largest in the world? Paul Stamets visits the most massive conk alive of Bridgeoporus nobilissimus, the Noble Polypore, growing from a old-growth stump in central Oregon. This endangered species is a mycological mystery. This noble elder mushroom has taken the title of largest living mushroom in the world from a specimen of Rigidoporus ulmarius, at the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens in England, which succumbed to foxes building a den underneath it. Photo from fungi.com

Oh yeah. Stamets has proven that mushrooms –in this case the humble oyster mushroom– can be used to turn toxic crude oil mixed with hay into life-supporting compost. Hmm… does that remind me of something? (Note: eating mushrooms grown on crude oil is gross and will make you dead).

Turns out mushroom mycelia (roots) can turn hydrocarbons into carbohydrates. Pretty neat bit of fungal alchemy! Please take a moment to peek his comments on the Gulf oil spill at his website, it may the only “good” news about this damn mess we’ve had since it began.

As a smart mushroom, Stamets isn’t some library recluse scientist, but a hands-on kinda guy that is constantly dreaming up practical applications for his discoveries. He has several patents for mycelium-based solutions, and in his site there are tons of products from edible mushroom grow kits to bioremediation spore kits and everything in between. If you suffer from mycophobia –the irrational fear of fungus among us– Stamets’ website will either cure you or kill you. For those of us who relate to mushrooms in a more positive way, Stamets carries a message of hope in the power of the humble mushroom to bring life to where arrogance and hubris has laid waste. Or is not the Earth to be inherited by the meek? You thought the meek were people, right? Think again…

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