Most people have never heard of the term mycoremediation, and, as we hope to show you in this entry of The Psilocybe Philosophy, that’s truly a shame—many prominent mycologists, environmentalists, and biologists believe that mycoremediation and the power of mycelium just might be capable of saving the world.

Sounds too good to be true? You might be surprised.

Let’s begin by establishing an understanding of mycoremediation. After that, we’ll look at some real-life examples of this bioremediation method in action and finally discuss how you can learn more.

What is Mycoremediation?

First, let’s break down the word mycoremediation. As you likely already know, myco- is a prefix pertaining to fungi—like how mycology is the study of fungi. The next part of the word, remediation, in this case refers to environmental remediation, which is any method or technology which removes pollutants, waste, or other contaminants from the natural environment, including soil and water.

Mushrooms growing vertically in nature.
Much more appealing than hazardous chemicals, no?

So, combine the two, and you get mycoremediation, which is environmental remediation using fungi. Mycoremediation is a form of bioremediation, which is any kind of environmental remediation that involves the purposeful cultivation of microorganisms with the goal of degrading or eliminating pollutants.

Right, now that we have the definitions out of the way, just how does mycoremediation work?

As you know from reading our article Mushroom Spores & Microscopy Research, fungi can be understood to basically have three stages: spores, mycelium, and fruiting bodies (mushrooms). The important bit to understand for mycoremediation is the mycelium.

While inaccurate, it can be easier to think of mycelium as the “roots” of mushrooms. It often looks like a white, spiderweb-like clumping that you’ve no doubt spotted before outside, perhaps on an old log or in the dirt.

mycelium growing on wood chips.
“Newborn” mycelium threads beginning to grow on wood chips and other debris.

As it grows, mycelium forms a network, called a mycelial network. This network is essentially a kind of “stomach” for the fungi—its job is to break down anything tasty it finds into nutrients for the fungi using enzymes. Often these nutrients are sourced from decaying plant and animal debris, but since fungi have “non-specific” enzymes, the mycelial network is capable of breaking down just about anything.

Understanding the above, you must be having an “ah-ha!” moment! Mycoremediation harnesses this “digestive power” of mycelium. By targeting where a mycelial network is allowed to grow, it’s possible to break down pollutants in the environment. For example, mycoremediation has been successfully used to remediate toxins such as heavy metals, chemicals, petroleum waste, pesticides, and more.

What Kinds of Fungi Are Used For Mycoremediation?

You might be very surprised to learn the kinds of fungi used for mycoremediation. Often, these fungi aren’t particularly rare or unique. In fact, even the common oyster mushroom has been used to great effect in remediation, which we’ll learn a bit more about in the following section.

An image of healthy, mature oyster mushrooms.
Healthy, mature oyster mushrooms.

Aside from oysters, which are one of the most commonly used mycoremediation mushrooms, other kinds of fungi include the mucor hiemalis fungi, and various fungi from the genera Trichoderma, Aspergillus, and Pleurotus have all shown great efficacy in the removal of toxins from the environment, particularly the degradation of heavy metals in the case of the latter genera mentioned.

Wood-decaying fungi such as Serpula lacrymans or Fomes fomentarius have also proven effective at remediating dyes from the environment, which is actually a much bigger problem than most would guess—dyes used in the textile or paper industry, many of which contain carcinogenic properties, are difficult to degrade using traditional remediation methods. One study has shown promise in dye remediation utilizing a strain of Talaromyces funiculosum fungi.

Real World Examples of Mycoremediation

Mycoremediation is a very inexpensive method of bioremediation, since it doesn’t require much in the way of specialized equipment or set-up. The technique has been used in many situations all around the world, such as:

  • A particularly devastating oil spill in Ecuador, which affected the Amazon rain forest. VICE published a piece in 2015 which you can read here that discusses how a nonprofit group, the Amazon Mycorenewal Project, spearheaded the initiative to utilize mycoremediation efforts to clean things up and make the land usable again.
  • In Denmark, mycoremediation is used in an impressive and unique way: a floating tube containing mycelium has been placed near an aquatic fuel station. The “fungi tube” then decomposes accidental petrol spills in the harbor, which serves over 300 coach boats.
  • A mycoremediation experiment proved successful in reducing the levels of hazardous compounds in the soil and water in New Zealand.
  • After the 2018 California wildfires, mycologists and environmentalists paired up to utilize mycoremediation in order to cleanse contaminated soil in populated areas (when buildings burn down, a lot of toxic chemicals are released into the soil).

As you can see, mycoremediation is already being used to great effect, but this bioremediation method is still in the relatively early stages of development—given enough time and research, it isn’t a stretch to imagine that it may become the world’s foremost method of environmental remediation. For us “Fungi Fans,” that’s pretty impressive to say the least.

Further Reading & Resources About Mycoremediation

The foremost publication about mycoremediation is Paul Stamets’ 2011 book about the topic, Mycelium Running. In the book, the well-known mycologist goes into great detail about how and why mycoremediation works and how he predicts the method may be used in the future (and in several cases, the author was correct).

The cover of the book "Mycelium Running" by Paul Stamets.
Mycelium Running by Paul Stamets, the preeminent publication on mycoremediation.

Next week we’ll be publishing a post here on The Psilocybe Philosophy about other excellent books about fungi, so keep an eye out for that! (We’ll also update this page with a link.)

UPDATE: The post is now live! Please enjoy The Top 5 Fungi Books Every Amateur Mycologist Needs to Have On Their Shelf.

Before Mycelium Come Mushroom Spores – Here’s How to Learn More About Them

Mushroom spores are the precursors to mycelium, the driving force behind the potentially world-saving mycoremediation method. If you’d like to study mushroom spores for yourself, Quality Spores has a wide variety of exotic mushroom spores for sale in our shop—all of which are viable, authentic, and ready for use in your lab!

Learn more about amateur microscopy here, or start shopping now. See you next time!