Peter McCoy of the Radical Mycology project was recently interviewed on The Visionary Activist Show with Caroline Casey. Topics ranged from psychedelics, to panspermia, to remediation, to symbiosis. Check out the interview here.
Fungi, sometimes scrutinize for taking in oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide (like us animals), are now getting recognition for their crucial role in the carbon cycle. A recent study by K. E. Clemmensen et.al, published in Science found that mycorrhizal fungi are responsible for holding on to a larger than previously thought portion of carbon in the soil.
Here’s a nice summary:
As the Radical Mycology Book Indiegogo campaign winds down, we would like to share an insight into the power of crowdfunded mycology.
Jakie Shay, a mycology student at the San Francisco State University, was recently fully funded for her Kickstarter campaign to document the Marasmius mushrooms in Madagascar. This campaign will fund the travel and living expenses of Jackie and Radical Mycology’s friend Danny Newman, to produce a monograph on this understudied genus of Madagascar. So cool! While we can appreciate the work and time invested in making a successful crowdfunding campaign reach its goal, we are inspired by Jackie’s campaign for a few other reasons.
Mycology is one of the fastest growing fields of natural science. It is one of the few sciences (along with astronomy and ornithology) that the “amateur” can readily contribute to. The study of tropical fungi in particular offers a world of mystery as documentation and descriptions of fungi outside of industrialized countries is sparse. With an estimated 1.5-6 million fungal species in the world (with only roughly 100,000 species described), the potential uses for food, medicine, and remediation in these undocumented fungi leaves one to wonder what is left to be explored. Jackie’s project will not only contribute to the understanding of tropical fungi, however, it also demonstrates the potential for the hard science of mycology to be funded outside the traditional institutional routes of grants and scholarships. This shows the potential for a healthy (mycelial) network of supporters to collectively advance the citizen science of mycology. Jackie’s campaign sets a precedent for how the science of mycology can truly be developed and funded by collaboration amongst like-minded individuals.
While Jackie’s project is associated with a University, there is nothing to keep another group of people from applying the same model elsewhere in the world. Crowdfunding campaigns could be organized to help fund mycoremediation projects or to develop mushroom farms and cultivation curricula in developing nations. The first step, however, will be the creation of more accessible learning tools for the study of mycology. We hope that the Radical Mycology Book will be such a tool.
While the Radical Mycology Book has a defined outline and is currently in mid-production, we would like to know what you want to see in it. If you have a moment to spare, we have put together a short survey to get a sense of what would be most beneficial for the Radical Mycology community. Also included in the survey is space for proposals to submit content to this collaboratively written book. Please click the image below to be directed to the Radical Mycology Book survey. Thanks!
Cigarette filters are the most commonly littered waste product in the world. Last year, nearly 1.7 billion pounds of cigarette filters were thrown into the globe’s landfills and ecosystems. That’s roughly 4.5 trillion cigarette butts littered each year! In the US alone, an estimated 135 million pounds of cigarette butts are thrown away annually.
Cigarette filters are made from a type of plastic called cellulose acetate. As cellulose acetate does not readily biodegrade, cigarette litter can persist in the environment for 10-15 years or longer before it begins to break down. The filters that aren’t thrown into the streets and parks of the world find their way into landfills where they slowly leach toxic chemicals and heavy metals into ground water systems. Fortunately, fungi may provide a solution to this global issue.
As discussed in the Radical Mycology article, Fungi and The Plastics Problem, it has long been known that fungi can degrade various forms of plastic. However, a large-scale, real-world application of this ability has never been explored to any real depth. This may have been due to a variety of factors, one of which being that the chemical composition of many plastics is too complex for many fungi to readily digest. The plastic that composes cigarette filters, however, is of a rather simple composition and thus allows some common fungi to easily digest it.
Cellulose is the structural component in plant cell walls and is also one of the most accessible nutrient sources that fungi degrade in the natural world. Fungi use digestive enzymes to break down cellulose into simple sugars, which are then metabolized by the fungus. As the cellulose acetate that comprises cigarette filters is nothing more than a modified form of plant cellulose, it turns out that some fungi can break down this industrial plastic waste product.
As Peter of the Radical Mycology project demonstrates in the video below, fungi can not only be trained to digest used cigarette filters but possibly the toxic chemicals that they harbor as well. The methodology Peter used to accomplish this goal was based on an understanding of the skills needed to “train” a fungus to digest a foreign substance. Simply put, the mushroom cultivator must slowly introduce a new food source to a fungus so that the fungus can first determine and then produce the correct enzymes necessary to digest the novel substrate. The same concepts that Peter introduces in this video can be applied to a range of toxins and industrial chemicals, such as petroleum products, dioxins, dyes, and munitions. This is a concept known as fungal remediation. In recent years, skills such as these were coveted techniques used by professional mycologists and bioremediation firms. However, as the global grassroots bioremediation community has continued to grow in the last few years, these techniques have become increasingly more available to the common cultivator.
Skills such as this will be explored in-depth in the Radical Mycology Book. If you would like to learn more advanced mycological skills for reducing your pollution impact and to help clean up the environment, please consider backing the Radical Mycology Book Indiegogo campaign.