How fungi could save the world

Food UN.jpg

IRIN Food on sale at a market in Harare, Zimbabwe.

This article is brought to you thanks to the strategic cooperation of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Adam Jezard, Formative Content

A family of health superheroes, whose powers range from fighting cancer to cleaning up pollution: meet the humble fungi.

While fungi are everywhere, we do not know how many of them there are. A 2011 study reckoned there could be up to 5.1 million species. They are both friend and foe: sources of remedies and disease.

Image: American Journal of Botany

Mushrooms, perhaps the most easily recognizable forms of fungi, have been hailed as the latest superfoods, while some experts have said fungi may even have the potential to save the world from humanity’s worst excesses.

Such discoveries are yet another reminder of how our planet’s biodiversity is essential for the health and wellbeing of everything on it. This is why projects such as the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020, a global partnership that brings together governments, private sector and civil society organizations to stop deforestation, are needed to protect our natural world.

10 fascinating fungi facts

1. Fungi are often described as being the “fifth kingdom of life on Earth”; they are neither plant nor animal, microbe nor protozoa. Their spores can survive extreme temperatures, radiation and even outer space: in 1988, Russian cosmonauts noticed that something was growing on the outside of the Mir space station’s titanium quartz window – and eating through it. This turned out to be a fungus.

2. The largest living organism on our planet is a single fungus of the genus Armillaria, known as the “honey fungus” due to its sweet taste. Found in the Blue Mountains region of Oregon, America, this weighs an estimated 22,000 pounds (9,979 kg) and is spread over a remarkable 2.4 miles (3.8 km).

3. Fungi live everywhere: in water, on trees, in the soil, in the air – and on and in our bodies. Scientists have begun to appreciate how important the tiny, microscopic organisms – including fungi – that live on our skin and in our gut are to our health. Studies of the so-called microbiome have mostly concentrated on bacteria, but experts now think the fungal equivalent – the mycobiome – may play an important role in our immune system’s health.

4. Mushrooms taste great but are indigestible if uncooked. Cooking releases essential nutrients we need for a healthy life, including protein, vitamins B, C and D, and selenium (which helps prevent cancer). They are a good source of iron, copper, riboflavin, niacin and contain dietary fibre. One portobello mushroom can contain more potassium than a banana.

5. Both edible and inedible fungi have been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. For example, Ancient Greek philosopher Hippocrates, the founder of modern medicine, used Fomes fomentarius, a woody species found on trees, to cauterize wounds; Calvatia gigantea, or giant puffball, was used by Native Americans to stem bleeding.

6. Penicillium, a group of moulds (a type of fungi), formed the basis of penicillin, a drug that has saved countless lives since it was developed in the late 1920s.

7. A form of tree fungus has been hailed as a possible defence against biochemical weapons, including smallpox and anthrax. The fungus, known as Laricifomes officinalis when found on larch trees and Fomitopsis officinalis when on Douglas fir, spruce and hemlock, is resistant to influenza viruses. However, though native to Europe and North America, this fungus is becoming increasingly rare, another reason we need to better consider how we protect our plant and animal biodiversity.

8. The prime job of most fungi is to sustain the natural world. Along with bacteria, fungi are important as decomposers in the soil food web. They convert organic matter that is hard to digest into forms other organisms can use. Their strands – or hyphae – physically bind soil particles together, which helps water enter the soil and increases the earth’s ability to retain liquid.

9. Experts say healthy plant roots are infected by and – dependent on – fungi. And they think certain mushroom species may favour certain trees, which is why morels can be found under aspens, elms and oaks. The relationship between plant and fungi is mutually beneficial: the mushrooms feed off the plants they live on while their hyphae protect their hosts from parasites such as insects and harmful microorganisms.

10. Fungi could even help to save our world from pollution. Certain species, such as the oyster mushroom, produce enzymes that digest the hydrocarbons in petroleum. Some can absorb heavy metals like mercury and even digest polyurethane plastics. Scientists are also experimenting to see if certain types of fungi might be able to absorb radiation after nuclear disasters.

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

the European Sting Milestones

Featured Stings

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Governments should step up their efforts to give people skills to seize opportunities in a digital world

How to build a paradise for women. A lesson from Iceland

A Sting Exclusive: Paris Climate Change Summit, a defining moment for humanity, by Ulf Björnholm Head of UNEP Brussels

European elections: A chance to repel both nationalism and no-deal Brexit

UN chief encourages victims of terrorism to ‘raise up their voices’

An analysis of the impacts of climate change on human health

EU-wide rules for safety of drones approved by European Parliament

Statement by the Brexit Steering Group on UK paper on EU citizens in the UK

How do you get people to trust self-driving vehicles? This company is giving them ‘virtual eyes’

The Europeans back Russia-Turkey on Syria: A ‘Waterloo’ for Saudis and their Crown Prince

On World Day to Combat Desertification, UN shines spotlight on ‘true value’ of land

Europe enters uncharted waters with Kiev-Moscow standoff

Are the G20 leaders ready to curb corporate tax-avoidance?

The Middle East needs a technological revolution. Start-ups can lead the way

Distributed ownership: what it means and how it could transform India

UN rights chief ‘alarmed’ by upsurge in attacks against civilians in Syria’s Idlib

ECB should offer more and cheaper liquidity if Eurozone is to avoid recession

High internet taxes are restricting access and slowing economic growth

In Bali, UN chief Guterres outlines importance of international financial cooperation for sustainable development

Why the Fourth Industrial Revolution needs more arts graduates

Global Citizen – Volunteer Internships

INTERVIEW: UN’s top official in North Korea foresees ‘surge’ in humanitarian aid

Inflation and interest rates indicate urgent need for action

Sub10 Systems @ MWC14: Bridging the Ethernet of the Future

What have the banks done to the markets making them unable to bear cheap oil?

IQ scores have been falling for decades, new study finds

“Airbnb and YouTube are two great examples of a crowd based capitalism”, key stakeholders outline the boundaries of the 4th Industrial Revolution in Davos

New EU rules ensure better protection for 120 million holidaymakers this summer

Japan’s holiest shrine is pulled down and rebuilt every 20 years – on purpose

China will be the world’s top tourist destination by 2030

Acute food insecurity ‘far too high’ UN agency warns, as 113 million go hungry

ECOFIN: Choosing between the re-unification of Eurozone and a stalemate

UN chief welcomes agreement by rival leaders in South Sudan, as a step towards ‘inclusive and implementable’ peace

Your chocolate can help save the planet. Here’s how

Here’s how to build energy infrastructures fit for the future

EU-US Privacy Shield data exchange deal: US must comply by 1 September, say MEPs

Does the sharing economy truly know how to share?

Flexible jobs can make work-life balance worse, a German study finds

ECB bets billions on Eurozone’s economic recovery

Brexit and migration dominates the debate on October’s EU summit

Galileo and EGNOS programmes back in orbit powered with €70 billion

4 myths about manufacturing in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

South Korea once recycled 2% of its food waste. Now it recycles 95%

Ηealth’s foundation is falling apart: what can we do about it?

For Youth Rights: steps forward for better protection.

Welfare of transported animals: MEPs urge EU states to do a better job

Governments and non-state actors need to take urgent action to meet Paris Agreement goals

‘Informing is not a crime’ UN chief calls for better protection of journalists, press freedom

Will the European Court of Justice change data privacy laws to tackle terrorism?

Dangers of poor quality health care revealed ‘in all countries’: WHO report

Reality Shock

A Sting Exclusive live from Brussels: Solheim’s consequential visit leading the world and the UN

Security Council extends mandate of UN Interim Force in Lebanon for a year

Fostering defence innovation through the European Defence Fund

How the Middle East is suffering on the front lines of climate change

UN refugee agency presses States to aid 49 refugees stranded on Mediterranean

Air quality: Commission takes action to protect citizens from air pollution

The 28 EU leaders don’t touch the thorny issues

UN condemns ‘heinous’ suicide attack on education centre in Afghanistan

MEPs urge EU states to ensure better care of transported animals

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s