Credit: Realmushrooms.com

A fascinating fact is that subterranean mycelium networks may absorb and degrade a broad variety of organic and synthetic substances.

A study conducted by Associate Professor Dr. Ong Ghim Hock, Ms. Tan Jia Wen, Dr. Wong Rui Rui and Dr. Wong Kok Kee from the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences at INTI International University, revealed the prevalence of fungi degrading or converting pollutants into harmless compounds which can safeguard the environment.

With his team, Dr. Ong discovered that industrial products frequently polluted the environment by releasing hydrocarbons, namely polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). PAHs, also known as chemical components, are durable and difficult to degrade when being released and absorbed into the soil.

By dissolving big molecules into smaller components, fungus produce energy. They do this by secreting acids and enzymes onto the food they want to eat, which they subsequently absorb along with the byproducts of the digesting process. Although fungus mostly eat organic material, their enzymes may also degrade a wide range of synthetic materials. Indeed, fungi are so adept at doing this that we are now using a process called mycoremediation to use them to purge polluted soils.

Naturally, these mushrooms are simply acting in accordance with their long-ago developed behaviours. Numerous fungal species create symbiotic relationships with plants in which a portion of the fungal grows next to and occasionally into the root system of the plant. Vast fungal connections run through the earth beneath our feet. Mycelium has the ability to transport and break down nutrients and minerals that are necessary for the life of the plant. The mycelium locates and breaks down these substances before transporting them to the plant’s roots, where they are absorbed. In return, the plant emits substances that are essential for the fungus to survive.

The fungi’s capacity to transfer and/or break down substances is what makes them beneficial for repairing ruined soils. These soils are frequently laden with hazardous chemicals consisting of big, harmful molecules. Fungi aid in reducing the toxicity of these compounds by dissolving them into smaller fragments. Other times, inorganic substances that cannot be broken down, such as cadmium, arsenic, and mercury, pollute soil. Fungi may still absorb and move these compounds, and they can ultimately accumulate them in their bodies of fruiting. The tainted environment will then be one step closer to recovering its health when we remove the fruiting bodies.

Petroleum and other petroleum-based goods are among the many chemicals that fungi may degrade and/or absorb.

Why isn’t this practise more common if fungi are so good at purifying the air we breathe? Due to the delayed procedure. Mycoremediation is constrained by the pace of metabolism, much like any other biological approach to environmental cleanup. Other solutions can be preferable if the cleanup of a contaminated region is time-sensitive. Another problem with mycoremediation is that it frequently just reduces the concentration of a specific harmful component in the soil rather than totally getting rid of it. No one wants to eat a mushroom that is loaded with heavy metals, so it might also be challenging to economically justify.

In conclusion, a lack of field test data may be the main factor in the relative unpopularity and underuse of mycoremediation. Being a relatively new approach, there aren’t many instances to back up its application. Thankfully, things are beginning to change. For instance, in 2017, a sizable quantity of oyster mushrooms were utilised to repair soil harmed by wildfires in California. The same kind of fungal has also been employed to remove hazardous waste and clean up oil spills.

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