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Mushrooms, Key to Future Sustainability

Mushrooms could provide several solutions to save the planet from the challenges of climate change. Find out what their uses will be in the future

Close-up of mushrooms on a log

Photo: Pexels

LatinAmerican Post | María Fernanda Ramírez Ramos

The history of mushrooms is long and interesting. With them, poisons were produced in the past, they are used as hallucinogens, they are part of hundreds of delicious recipes and they are essential for medicine. If in 1928 Alexander Fleming had not experimented with fungi, today we would not have penicillin, a fundamental antibiotic to cure infections.

However, fungi belong to such a large and diverse kingdom that many of their functionalities are still unknown. Today mycology, the branch of biology that studies the funghi kingdom, is making important advances to determine new applications of fungi that can help a transition towards more sustainable production models.

A renowned mycologist named Paul Stamets, famous for his Ted Talk “6 Ways Fungi Can Save the World” points out that these organisms can help clean contaminated soil, treat smallpox and viruses like the flu, and make insecticides. and materials for agriculture.

Mushrooms are superfoods

Many mushrooms have been classified as a superfood as they tend to be low in fat, high in fiber and high in protein, in addition to having with multiple minerals and vitamins. Research published in 2021 in the Journal of Future Foods ensures that fungal biomass as food can be used as protein, beverages, flours for baked goods or dairy substitutes.

They also have multiple properties of texture, flavor and color, which makes them very versatile. On the other hand, they are products that have a low carbon footprint in their production with numerous nutritional characteristics. Mycoprotein generally performs better than animal protein in impact categories such as global warming potential, land use efficiency and energy use.

Fungi as a raw material

Fungal Architectures is a research project funded by the European Union that is developing a concept of living architecture. It is about the design of an intelligent house using fungi, a natural, sustainable and carbon-free material. It is a project that mixes biophysics, architecture and mycology with artificial intelligence to ensure that living biological substances are used as construction materials. Basically, the fungus would have the ability to perceive changes in the environment, that is, it would work like a computer capable of connecting to an artificial intelligence system and giving alarms about the environment.

On the other hand, the mycelium, a structural component of fungi that forms fine and resistant networks, has become a supermaterial that is being applied and studied for various uses. For example, the company Ecovative is using this material to make leather, foam, packaging and beauty products.

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The great thing about mushrooms is that they are fully compostable and actually help break down other materials. In this way, natural cycles are taken advantage of to aim for a circular economy with a low impact on carbon footprint. In fact, fungi such as P. ostreatu and their effect on wood are also being used to generate biofuels.

Fundamental for medicine

Since ancient times, mushrooms have been used to cure multiple diseases, although they can also cause damage to humans. However, in traditional Chinese and Indian medicine they are essential. They are also the source of penicillin. A book published in 2021, called Industrially Important Fungi for Sustainable Development, indicates that fungi have been discovered as a great source of antioxidants, biomolecules for pharmaceutical application and antimicrobial properties that have great potential for the development of the industry in the world. future. These are organizations that can help meet current challenges in terms of sustainability.