The use of mycelial mats to filter or break down contaminants in soil or water.

The mycelia of fungi use enzymes to break down the long chains of carbon and hydrogen that make up organic matter. In the case of brown-rot fungus, for example, the mycelia break down cellulose, while white-rot fungus, such as Phanerochaete chrysosporium,breaks down lignin. In the 1960's it was first noted that certain industrial waste products that contained hydrocarbons (the base structure common to oils, petroleum products, pesticides, PCBs, and many other pollutants) responded to treatment with mushrooms-- the mycelia were successful in breaking down the manmade carbon-hydrogen chains.

In a noted pilot test for the Washington State Department of Transportation, contaminated soil (containing diesel fuel, motor oil, gasoline) from a maintenance yard was sorted into different piles, for the purposes of comparing different bioremediation treatments: application of native bacteria, application of engineered bacteria, application of fungi, and a control pile. After four weeks, mycologist Paul Stamets’s pile had a growing bed of oyster mushrooms, and the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in the pile were nearly gone (and the mushrooms tested free of petroleum by-products, as well). The other piles had no noticeable change. After 8 weeks, the decomposing mushrooms had attracted flies and insects, which attracted birds, creating a mini-habitat. After 12 weeks the pile was tested and shown to be nontoxic and suitable for use in landscaping.

Researchers are looking to screen, culture, train, pilot test, and patent proprietary strains of fungi for use in cleaning up sites contaminated with bacteria, pesticides, explosives, petroleum hydrocarbons, and agricultural runoff.

Sources:
Leslie Guttman, "Scientists finding fungi a valuable ally in habitat restoration," San Francisco Chronicle, November 25, 2001,page A-21
Carol Mouché, "New Fungal Strains Attack Hydrocarbons in Soil," <http://www.pollutionengineering.com/archives/2000/pol0401.00/pol0400focus.htm> (27 November 2001)
Paul Stamets, "Earth’s Natural Internet," Whole Earth, Fall 1999;
Batelle Memorial Institute, "Mushrooms: Higher Macrofungi to Clean Up the Environment," <http://www.battelle.org/environment/publications/envupdates/Fall00/article4.html> (27 November 2001)

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