How Mushrooms Eat Oil
1. Mushrooms will eat anything
Fungi are the primary decomposers in most environments. They have developed many unique tools for breaking down hydrocarbons and other organic chemicals. Scientists have identified more than 120 enzymes in the tissues of mushroom-forming fungi.
2. It’s the enzymes
These enzymes can break down toxic chemicals, including the cancer-causing hydrocarbons found in oil.
3. It happens underground
Hydrocarbons with lower molecular weights are easier for the mycelium—the underground part of the fungus— to digest than those with heavier ones. However, the mycelium gradually breaks heavier hydrocarbons into lighter-weight compounds less harmful to people and the environment. With repeated fungal treatments, even the nastiest oil toxins can be rendered nontoxic.
4. Add some compost
Oyster mushroom mycelia break down hydrocarbons much more effectively when mixed with wood chips and compost than they do on their own. Researchers found one strain of oil-eating oyster mushrooms that thrives in saltwater environments. The mycelium fully colonizes straw soaked with sea water.
5. Local mushrooms
Native mushroom species are best adapted to local conditions and therefore do the best job of cleaning up toxic messes. The timing of plantings also depends on local conditions.
6. Healthy soil
In one test, researchers inoculated diesel-contaminated soil with oyster mushrooms and found that they reduced the concentration of toxic hydrocarbons from a dangerous 10,000 parts per million to just 200 parts per million over a 16-week period. The remediated soil was so clean that regulators approved it for use in landscaping along highways.
This article was written by YES! Magazine staff for the Fall 2010 issue, A Resilient Community.
- Video: 6 Ways Mushrooms Can Save the World
- Ecovillages, fallen fruit, and how to build a cob house: Visit the multimedia page for our Fall 2010 issue
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