16 April, 2012

Hail The Magic Mushroom!

Eben Bayer presenting his research at TED Global 2010.
Video courtesy of ted.com.

No, not THAT kind of mushroom! Fungi ARE good for us though! According to mushroominfo.com, "Mushrooms are low in calories, fat-free, cholesterol-free and very low in sodium, yet they provide important nutrients, including selenium, potassium, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin D and more." But those are just the edible varieties. Lately there have been some amazing discoveries as a result of the sensational chemical properties of a few specific species of fungi. Two super smart guys named Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre have invented a 100% biodegradable, compostable foam made from plant feedstock (leftover by-product from agricultural processing of rice, buckwheat, oats, etc.) that is bound together with a polymer glue derived from mushrooms! Find their products on their company website called Ecovative Design. That crunchy, airy white stuff that clings to everything and is a pain to deal with when you open a recently shipped box is also seriously hazardous to the planet's health. Conventional styrofoam creates a heavy burden on the Earth's ecosystems and self-cleaning abilities because it takes thousands of years for the foam to break down and in the meantime, it often just floats around in oceans and streams, clogging accessibility for wildlife and causing an eyesore, or it takes up space in landfills. Thanks to Evocative Design's innovations, there is now a true alternative out there!

Image courtesy of thekitchn.com.

Speaking of mushrooms, did everyone hear about another recent eco-friendly breakthrough involving fungi? This article in the online publication Co.EXIST talks about the fine work of molecular biochemistry Professor Scott Strobel and his student exploration team from Yale University who, as part of a two-week long undergraduate student research program, found a fun fungus in the Ecuadorian Amazon forest named Pestalotiopsis microspora that actually eats plastic (polyurethane) from say, the bottom up in a landfill! This is very good news! Here is another article about the findings from Yale Alumni Magazine. A big pat on the back to Science for both of these discoveries, but admittedly, the only mushrooms in my life are found in eatable dishes. So if you'll excuse me, I have some fresh porcinis, garlic, salty butter and white wine beckoning to me from the kitchen!

Pestalotiopsis microspora. Image courtesy of nhregister.com.

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