The Magic of Mycelium

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNChapterpeer-review


Fungi are extremely plentiful: they are omnipresent in our lives, yet we don’t often notice them unless we are consuming them or if they are damaging our stuff. They are found literally everywhere on Planet Earth: in oceans, soils, atmosphere, and of course, they are on and inside us in the form of yeasts. Without fungi trees and plants would not be able to sustain themselves: they would die. They consume dead matter and create nutrient-rich soils. They can also consume rock and even synthetic human-made materials such as plastic. Fungi can even survive in space and provide us with some of the smallest and the largest organisms on planet earth. Fungi demonstrate a collective intelligence – they can determine the most efficient routes around obstacles and then change direction. They can generate electrical impulses. Humans have been eating them for thousands of years, although many fungi are so poisonous that they can kill. Recent evidence from China concludes that humans were using yeasts to create alcohol and bread over 9,000 years ago. Despite this we barely know anything about them. As Merlin Sheldrake notes in his book Entangled Life quoting Alexander von Humbolt from 1845 “A sophisticated understanding of mycelium is yet to emerge. We are standing at the entrance to one of the oldest of life’s labyrinths”. Humans are just at the point of getting to know more about fungi, exploring some of their potentials. Over the last thirty years or so we have discovered that if we feed mycelium certain foodstuffs, we can create organic non-toxic material options to the multifarious synthetic petrochemicals that have proved extremely detrimental to our own and own planet’s health. Companies around the world are currently investing multi-millions of dollars developing mycelium-based projects and ring-fencing the Intellectual Property Rights to what most people think will be a business opportunity as large as that of the current petrochemical industry. Mycelium products are easy to manufacture, do not require land currently occupied by forests or farms. They can be produced in factories and even urban environments as manufacturing processes do not emit pollutants. Current materials are creating organic, compostable, and non-toxic alternatives to plastic packaging, acoustic panelling, and very soon, high performing rigid insulation for the construction sector. Recently developed mycelium variants can be used instead of leather in the fashion industry, producing fabrics for clothes and shoes. In many cases these alternatives are providing higher levels of performance than conventional synthetic materials. But we are only at the beginning of our exploration into the potentials of this hugely diverse and beneficial world of fungi, one that could enable us to once again live in harmony with our host planet.

Benefits: Non-toxic, organic, and compostable. Plentiful. Provides end of live strategy for products. Part of the biosphere. Doesn’t require land to grow, and feeds of organic and even synthetic waste streams. Benefits to us and Planet Earth could be substantial as it will enable humans to turn linear (take, make, and throw away) systems into waste free circular systems. Using mycelium into of resource-depleting, greenhouse gas creating, environment-polluting, petrochemicals will helps humans clean up the natural environment.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMaterials
Subtitle of host publicationAn environmental primer
EditorsHattie Hartman, Joe Jack Williams
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherRIBA Publishing
Number of pages7
ISBN (Print)9781915722218
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 1 Mar 2024

Bibliographical note

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  • Fungi
  • Mycelium
  • Carbon Locking
  • Biospheres


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