Mycologist Paul Stamets on How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World
As Earth faces the perilous prospect of continuously rising
temperatures, scientists and government leaders are stressing the
importance of conserving our planet’s precious biodiversity.
many studies are being conducted to find effective ways to maintain
sustainability. But what many may not realize is that we are surrounded
by plants that may provide a promising solution: mushrooms.
join us today as Paul Stamets presents his findings on the remarkable
vegetative part of fungi, mycelium. With six books on mushroom
cultivation to his credit, Mr. Stamets is a best-selling author and
leading expert in the field of mycology and holds a number of patents.
Paul Stamets has been awarded prizes such as the 1998 Bioneers
Award from The Collective Heritage Institute, and the 1999 Founder of a
New Northwest Award from the Pacific Rim Association of Resource
Conservation and Development Councils.
His passion for nature
has led him to find many surprising applications of the mycelium, such
as protection against smallpox disease.
But most of all, he is
a tireless advocate for this little-known component of fungi, which
holds possible keys to our survival as a species.
also named as one of the Utne Reader’s "50 Visionaries Who Are Changing
Your World" in the November–December
So what is mycelium, and why is it so special? Let’s find out from renowned mycologist Paul Stamets.
Paul Stamets: Mycelium
is the fine, fibrous network that is virtually in all land masses on
Earth. And anyone’s seen mycelium; you can go outside right now and
find a log on the ground and tip it upside down and you'll see this
white, fuzzy, cobwebby growth. That's the mycelium.
(SUPREME MASTER TV: OK) The
mycelium creates soil and typically fungi are classically decomposers,
they are the grand molecular dissemblers in nature. They break down
wood and animal and other materials and they create soil in the
HOST: The health of our soil is crucial to life on this planet.
Paul Stamets: Life
on this planet depends upon soil and soil quality and as the soil
increases in its carrying capacity, it increases biodiversity potential.
(SUPREME MASTER TV: Right) And
we are here now because we are an evolutionary success. We are here
because of trillions upon trillions of experiments over hundreds of
millions of years that have been successful through natural selection.
we should rejoice because we are an evolutionary success. For how long
we'll be an evolutionary success is the big current question. And the
rule of nature is when any organism exceeds the carrying capacity of
its ecosystem, then that organism then is put into extinction or on the
path to extinction through diseases.
And so, as our ecosystems
collapse because of pollution, overpopulation, desertification,
deforestation, this harms the very basis of the soil ecology that gives
So we’re really shooting ourselves in the foot right
now by artificially creating food networks and transporting food from
all over the world and not investing in our local ecosystem.
And if we don't invest in our local soil ecosystem, then we threaten our own very existence and that of future generations.
HOST: In fact, plants, which are so vital to helping reduce harmful greenhouse gases, are all part fungi.
Paul Stamets: Well, there's a lot of amazing discoveries in the past four or five years.
15, 2006 in Science News there was an article entitled “Plants are all
Part Fungi.” And when they do a DNA analysis, they find fungal DNA
inside of plants.
And through two catastrophic events that we
know of, according to the fossil record, 250 million years ago and 65
million years ago, we had two asteroid impacts.
And when these
asteroids hit the Earth, enormous amounts of debris were jettisoned
into the atmosphere. It was choked with dust, sunlight was cut out.
the fossil record, more than 90% of the species became extinct. Because
fungi do not require light, those organisms that paired with fungi
And through natural selection, through at least two
catastrophic events from these asteroid impacts, we know that organisms
that paired with fungi had an advantage compared to those organisms
that were sunlight dependent or did not pair with these fungal networks.
so all plants now, we know, are infused with fungi. So these are huge,
complex communities and these communities are the basis of life on this
HOST: Not only does mycelium provide a gateway for
other life forms to follow, it also shows promise for application in
future scientific endeavors.
Paul Stamets: The
other things that have been remarkable, at Einstein University in this
past year, researchers looking at videos of the containment vessel that
surrounds the Chernobyl reactor, they were shocked to see all these
black molds growing inside the reactor and they were like wondering,
“How is this possible?” because there was over a million rads of
Now one rad is a hundredth of a joule per kilogram, almost all life forms under that intense radiation would die off.
these fungi were growing prolifically. And so they did this analysis,
and they found that these melanin-producing fungi, these are fungi that
have the same pigment causing compound that we have in our skin and
when we're exposed to sunlight, we darken.
Well, these fungi
also produce melanin, and it turns out that the melanin-producing fungi
can utilize radiation in a fashion similar that plants utilize
So they can actually convert radioactivity into
biological metabolic activity and these cells can grow. So this was
heretofore not known but it opens up the possibility of fungal networks
living on other planets even though there is no sunlight.
opens up the possibility of human space travel because we have to grow
our food and fungal foods are very delicious and are very nutritious.
now, it’s about six months with our current technology to get to Mars
and so if we had humans going to Mars, it takes six months to get
there, a year on the planet, six months to get back. Well they have to
generate food for two years.
(SUPREME MASTER TV: Right)
They can’t carry that food with them, there’s too much mass, so they have to grow their food. So
the idea of now growing fungal foods in space, using ambient radiation,
even from the reactors on the space vessels, enables us to grow food
and allows us to feed humans as they travel into outer space.
So the implications here are absolutely enormous.
Planet Earth: Our Loving Home returns after these brief messages, Paul
Stamets will continue telling us about the applications of mycelium to
enhancing our world. Please keep your dial tuned here to Supreme Master
Paul Stamets: The
health of our ecosystem is essential to the health of future
generations; we need to protect those future generations from the
activities that we are creating now that threaten them.
HOST: Welcome back to Planet Earth: Our Loving Home here on Supreme Master Television.
923 million people suffer from food shortages, and unstable weather
patterns are affecting the agricultural production of many farmers
around the world.
Renowned mycologist Paul Stamets explains
how mycelium offers ways to alleviate world hunger, not just as a food
source by as a complementary growth enhancer for other plants.
Paul Stamets: The
mycelium creates a mushroom, and the mushroom converts to mycelium. So
you can actually eat mycelium as a fungal food source.
(SUPREME MASTER TV (F): OK)
pairing of fungi with plants, fortifies the immune system of the
plants, lessens the need for water and external inputs like
fertilizers, etc. So when you have myceliated root systems with the
plants, they grow much stronger under adverse conditions. And this is
something that we’re seeing now all over the world.
There is a
great endophytic fungus, a fungus that grows inside of plants called
Curvularia, and Curvularia, Rice and corn. It gives them heat
resistance, and so they can be drought tolerant.
So with this fungus now, growing rice and corn and other grasses in arid climates is much more possible.
this has huge implications, especially for farmers in the Middle East,
that if they can grow the plants with this fungus, they need much less
water. And because the fungus is a sponge in that it absorbs water, as
the root system grows out, can reverse desertification and expand oasis
And so one of my things that I really want to do
is be involved in Africa and in the Middle East and find these
interface environments where the deserts are encroaching.
And if you put mycelial bands, you can then reverse this trend and you can then grow more plants and re-green these areas.
And you do that hundreds, thousands, millions of times, then we can actually cause a climate change for the better.
And that’s something that I think that these fungi have a great use.
his speech entitled “6 Ways Mushrooms Can Save the World,” at the
annual TEDTalks conference, Mr. Stamets spoke of how mycelium fungus
has the ability to clean polluted soil and create a network for habitat
Mushrooms can also treat illnesses such as
smallpox and flu, as well as provide nutrients to forests and all the
consequential life that follows. In addition, mycelium can be used as a
protect plants and has the ability to provide eco-friendly fuel.
For all its great benefits, mushrooms are fairly easy to grow.
Paul Stamets: All
gardeners are growing fungi anyhow. They just may not know it. So every
gardener out there pulling up their plants are seeing all these fungal
networks all the time.
At the point when seeds germinate, they
immediately seek fungal allies, immediately. If there’s not those
fungal allies right near the seed, then the seeds will starve, the
plants will be a lot more anemic, they’ll be a lot more disease
So by adding these spores and coating the spores
directly upon the seeds, as soon as they germinate they then form this
association. And that mantle of protection then gives the seeds a much
higher probability of being able to out-compete other seeds that don’t
have those mycorrhizal or beneficial fungi.
And the seeds grow
faster, more fruit, more host-defensive resistance against diseases,
etc. So that’s the best way is to introduce it at the germination of
We can also introduce it into the root zones, with
those plants that don’t have mycorrhizal fungi yet. We can actually dip
them into a bath of mycorrhizal fungi and then re-plant.
Stamets also explained that using mycelium is not only effective but
also affordable and may be used to help all regions of the planet.
Paul Stamets: So
we grow tons of mycelium per week at our facility. We have hundreds and
hundreds of species of fungi that we have collected out of nature.
depending on the appropriate circumstance, they can be sent to all
regions of the world. We emphasize amplifying native species from
The problem is with many ecosystems that
have been impaired or threatened or polluted, they’ve lost a lot of the
native species that were once there.
(SUPREME MASTER TV: Right)
So in order to repair those ecosystems, it’s best to get those native species back into play.
HOST: Thank you, Paul Stamets, for taking time to introduce the manifold planet-saving benefits of mycelium.
brilliant and noble endeavors such as yours, surely we may overcome the
current global crisis and continue to enjoy the beautiful and
irreplaceable biodiversity of our planet.
HOST: It was a
pleasure having you join us on this edition of Planet Earth: Our Loving
Home. Our show airs every Wednesday here on Supreme Master Television.
Stay tuned for Enlightening Entertainment, right after Noteworthy News.
May your lives be graced with many auspicious moments.