As the oil continues to gush in the Gulf of Mexico, attention is being directed on the potential for mycelium fungus to clean up oil spills and to rehabilitate waterways. Mushrooms also have value in cleaning polluted soil, making non-toxic insecticides, treating smallpox and even as an inexpensive fuel source. There are cosmic implications as well. Stamets believes we could terraform other worlds in our galaxy by sowing a mix of fungal spores and other seeds to create an ecological footprint on a new planet.
The focus of Stamets’ research is the Northwest’s native fungal genome, mycelium, but along the way he has filed 22 patents for mushroom-related technologies, including pesticidal fungi that trick insects into eating them, and mushrooms that can break down the neurotoxins used in nerve gas.
To demonstrate how we can use mushrooms to kill carpenter ants, termites and fire ants, Stamets makes a mixture of a particular mushroom. The ants eat the solution and die, and a mushroom sprouts from the mummified remains. In time, the entire house becomes naturally inoculated against the pests. This could have significant economic impact as an alternative to traditional chemical pesticides, while reducing harm to human health and the environment. Only a teaspoonful of the fungus grown on a substrate such as rice and costing a few cents to produce is sufficient to treat a single home for years, Mr. Stamets says. In addition, M. anisopliae and the active compounds it generates don’t appear to be harmful to humans, other mammals, fish, useful insects such as honeybees, or plants.
What is probably the largest living organism on earth has been discovered in the Malheur National Forest in eastern Oregon. A fungus living three feet underground is estimated to cover 2,200 acres. After testing samples from various locations, scientists say it is all one organism.
This Ted talk helps to confirm what many people feel intuitively – that the earth is a single living, breathing entity. Discovering the miraculous potential within mushrooms offers hope for a more sustainable future, while inspiring us to protect all species for their unique and potentially profound contributions to human well being.