Mycoremediation is a form of bioremediation, the process of using fungi to return an environment (usually soil) contaminated by pollutants to a less contaminated state. The term mycoremediation was coined by Paul Stamets and refers specifically to the use of fungal mycelia in bioremediation.
One of the primary roles of fungi in the ecosystem is decomposition, which is performed by the mycelium. The mycelium secretes extracellular enzymes and acids that break down lignin and cellulose, the two main building blocks of plant fiber. These are organic compounds composed of long chains of carbon and hydrogen, structurally similar to many organic pollutants. The key to mycoremediation is determining the right fungal species to target a specific pollutant. Certain strains have been reported to successfully degrade the nerve gases VX and sarin.
In an experiment conducted in conjunction with Dr. S. A. Thomas, a major contributor in the bioremediation industry, a plot of soil contaminated with diesel oil was inoculated with mycelia of oyster mushrooms; traditional bioremediation techniques (bacteria) were used on control plots. After four weeks, more than 95% of many of the PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) had been reduced to non-toxic components in the mycelial-inoculated plots. It appears that the natural microbial community participates with the fungi to break down contaminants, eventually into carbon dioxide and water. Wood-degrading fungi are particularly effective in breaking down aromatic pollutants (toxic components of petroleum), as well as chlorinated compounds (certain persistent pesticides; Battelle, 2000).
The concept of mycoremediation was explored in the 1984 film Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, where vast tracts of fungal forest rehabilitate the planet after catastrophic human polluting and apocalypse.
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