Scientific American isn’t a magazine prone to making unsubstantiated claims, so when they declare that “The mycelium revolution is upon us”, it’s worth paying attention to what they have to say. Mycelium is simply a name for the fungus that forms mushrooms. This ubiquitous but seemingly ordinary life form could serve as the key for everything from sustainable clothing to humane organ farming. Read on to learn how you can incorporate this exciting product into your own life.
The Rediscovery of Mushrooms
We have, of course, been aware of the presence of mushrooms for thousands of years. In fact, dried and fresh mushrooms are regularly used as medicinal ages—with remote cultures on opposite sides of the world making fungus a critical component in their folk medicine. Fungus has been used for generations to ferment drinks—a process that isn’t just for getting drunk but also helped us survive in the presence of unsanitary water sources. But it wouldn’t be until the 20th century that science really began to explore the full potential of mushrooms.
The 1950s saw scientists discover the presence of chitin in mushrooms—and realized the potential to use that chitin to produce paper, building materials, and textiles. Then came the discovery in 1978 that mycelium and other bacteria are essentially super-factories that can be manipulated to create new and important compounds.
In the years that have followed, mycelium has become a central cornerstone in both the development of new prescription medicines as well as in the development of a vegan alternative to traditional textile manufacturing.
An Alternative to Cow Leather
One of the most prominent uses of mycelium is as a vegan alternative to traditional textiles. But the field where the impact can be understood the most is in the leather industry. Ranching and farming has a dramatic impact on our environment—with roughly half of the water in the world and a third of the land space used to grow and then slaughter livestock. That has a devastating toll on everything from greenhouse admissions to soil quality, and it minimizes the amount of space we can use for growing trees for oxygen and crops for human consumption.
Vegan leather provides an exciting alternative because it resolves all of the major issues with leather. Mycelium leather can be grown at an astonishing rate of up to 70 to 80 times that of traditional leather. The impact on both the land and water is much smaller, and no animals need to die for it to be made.
An Alternative to Plastics
Plenty of space has been given to the threat of plastics, but that doesn’t make it any less real.
Plastic freshly disposed of in our landfills is still hundreds of years away from decomposing entirely, and those plastics are just building up more and more with each passing day. But our increased understanding of mycelium allows us to use fungus to grow materials that are just as strong and versatile as plastic while also being 100% biodegradable. As research and evidence grow, mushrooms are being increasingly used for everything from packaging to construction materials.
A Merging of Scientific and Folk Medicine
The medical benefits of mushrooms have been understood for a long time, even if science is only now starting to understand the specific benefits of why. What they’ve found out so far is that mycelium fulfills three important roles: boosting immune cells, regulating the immune response system, and activating white blood cells when necessary.
These are critical tasks that can assist with any number of different health conditions—and by drawing from a fungal source rather than something synthetic, we can produce results that are more natural for both our bodies and the world around us.
The wider acceptance of mycelium as an alternative to many of the products we use in our daily lives will happen sooner or later, but you can help create a more sustainable world by adopting mycelium products into your life.