The mushroom, the unknown creature: Most of the time, when we think of mushrooms, images of mushrooms, boletus or mushrooms come to mind, but the world of mushrooms is much broader.
The world of mushrooms is incredibly diverse. Mushrooms are found in all climatic zones, on all continents and even in outer space. Most of us know only the fruiting bodies of mushrooms. Only a few know the actual mushroom, the white, root-like mycelium.
Even our beer, bread and wine only become tasty with the help of yeast fungi. The antibiotic penicillin is also obtained from a mold. In 1929, Alexander Flemming discovered in a forgotten Petri dish after his vacation that contamination of Penicillium chrysogenum spread over a bacterial culture of Staphylococcus aureus and caused it to die. That was the beginning of our penicillin today.
Have you tried eating wood shavings? No? I think so! Today, most artificial flavors and aromas are made with the help of modified molds. This mold eats the wood chips and produces raspberry or strawberry flavor. Thus, the industry can advertise that it works with natural flavors. But that’s not the only fascinating thing:
Extremes of the mushroom world
The largest, oldest and heaviest living creature is actually a fungus. It is a Hallimasch (Armillaria). It is said to be between 3,000 and 4,000 years old, weighs as much as four sperm whales and its fungal network (mycelium) extends over eight square kilometers.
There is also a lot to know about speed: The fastest biological projectile is launched by a mold at 25 m per second. The small spore packets are sent on their way up to 180,000 times faster than the acceleration due to gravity.
Another very extreme candidate is the slime mold. This fungus can move in a pulsating manner and actively hunt. Yes, you read that right, this very interesting family of fungi is able to move around and find new food sources in the process.
Another extreme is the zombie fungus Cordyceps. This genus of fungi feeds on insects such as ants, caterpillars and spiders. The insect passes over a spore or eats a piece of the fungus. The fungus then multiplies in the animal’s tissue. Just before the cordyceps kills the insect, it forces it to climb onto a leaf and bite the underside of the leaf. The animal then dies and a fungus grows out of its head. The fungus spreads spores on the ground and waits for new victims.
So mushrooms are very fascinating creatures. But is there more to the fungal kingdom?
Shaping the future with mushrooms
There are interesting areas of application for mushrooms, some of which we would like to briefly introduce here:
1. Environmental pollution
The fungus can do amazing things. Some varieties of fungus can process oil and gasoline. Thus, old industrial sites can be renovated easily and inexpensively because the fungus eats 99% of the oil. It could also be used to recycle the oil removed from polluted beaches. Recent research reports that a fungus has appeared in Amazonia that decomposes plastic. Might a solution to the world’s plastic problem lie here? The chances for the fungus are good.
Another conceivable approach is to be found in animal breeding. Very fine fungal mesh can be used to build sewage filters that can destroy bacteria and nutrients.
As mentioned at the beginning, the Cordyceps genus feeds on insects. The fungus could help us protect our homes against ants and termites, without harming other animals or humans.
3. Eco friendly packaging
Some packaging is already being obtained from mushroom mycelium. These could replace all styrofoam packaging in the future. At the same time, the mushroom also offers other advantages. The mushroom mesh is practically incombustible, does not release toxic substances into the environment, you can compost it, and it is easy to process.
Today, biofuel is obtained from corn, for example. If the corn is first inoculated with mycelium, the fungus converts the cellulose into sugar. This would make biofuel production much more efficient.
5. Immune system
Drugs from some mushrooms seem to help against cancer, among other things. The metabolic product of the fungus, metabolite, which has hardly been researched so far, is also interesting for medical research. Some very powerful antibiotics can probably be found in it.
6. Plant cultivation
Here, too, the fungus plays a decisive role. Most plants enter into a symbiosis with plant roots. An incredible exchange of nutrients and information takes place here. This coexistence helps the tree to survive even in difficult situations.
7. Bee Protection
As Pooh the Bear knew, bees live in trees. In tree cavities, fungal mycelium is very often found. This is absorbed by the bees, which strengthen their immune system and their vitality and are thus better armed against their strongest enemy, the varroa mite.
8. World hunger
Mushrooms grow on almost all natural residues of the agricultural industry such as corn husks, soybeans, straw, coffee residues, chicken manure and much more. These could therefore be used to create a high-quality foodstuff, from which the poorer countries in particular could benefit.
9 . Preserving and fermenting
Who does not know it? Sauerkraut is probably one of the best known foods that are fermented (lactic acid fermented). But there are many more fermented foods. The well-known seasoning sauce with “M” or the soy oyster sauce from the Chinese restaurant around the corner – all are produced according to the same principle.
Soy, corn, whole fish, oysters or even chickpeas are put into a barrel with lots of salt. Now the whole thing is left to stand until it stops bubbling. Then the broth is filtered and goes into the bottle. As you can imagine, the stench of these production facilities is very intense. In the past, garum (also: liquamen), the standard spice in ancient Roman cuisine, was therefore by law not allowed to be produced in the cities but only outside.
The list continues with kefir, kombucha, Japanese crystals, miso soups, kimchi, yogurt, tea, raw tobacco, cheeses such as Camembert and also some varieties of salami covered with noble mold and, of course, the old familiar sourdough.
So there are all kinds of things to discover in the world of mushrooms! If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to write us in the comments.
Here is a video from Paul Staments: