The un­usual uses of the wood wide web

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Feature -

The re­la­tion­ship be­tween fungi and host trees is some­times called the ‘ Wood Wide Web’. It is es­ti­mated that 90 per­cent of land plants are in mu­tu­ally-ben­e­fi­cial re­la­tion­ships with fungi, and these fun­gal bod­ies cover vast ar­eas, of­ten acres in size. Some are so big, NASA has mapped them from space.

There are two types of com­monly-eaten mush­rooms: sapro­bic and sym­biont. Com­mon field mush­rooms and some other ed­i­ble fungi are sapro­bic, mean­ing they live and feed on de­cay­ing ma­te­rial, help­ing to de­com­pose it into sim­ple mol­e­cules that can then be taken up by plants and other or­gan­isms liv­ing in the soil.

My­c­or­rhizal fungi, the wild mush­room va­ri­eties the Krum­me­n­ach­ers grow, are sym­biont, mean­ing they work with the roots of plants.

It’s the ul­ti­mate barter sys­tem, fungi pass­ing on valu­able nu­tri­ents and min­er­als to the tree, the tree shar­ing its boun­ty­with the fungi.

How­ever, new re­search is show­ing that there can be many other ben­e­fits for the trees be­sides nu­tri­ent ex­change, such as in­creased re­sis­tance to dis­ease, and en­hance­ment of a plant’s abil­ity to gather nu­tri­ents and wa­ter from the soil.

Sci­en­tists have also found amaz­ing new ways they can use fungi to grow more than just mush­rooms you can eat. There are now com­pa­nies us­ing mycelium-based tech­nol­ogy to grow prod­ucts. Fungi can grow into al­most any shape. Give them a space to fill and you can grow fur­ni­ture, cloth­ing, build­ing prod­ucts, and pack­ag­ing ma­te­ri­als.

It’s a win for man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pa­nies. They use far less pol­lut­ing re­sources and en­ergy, and the end-prod­uct is biodegrad­able.

Fungi en­zymes are also now used in de­ter­gents to break down stains. The re­sult is you can use less wa­ter and the wash­ing wa­ter can be cold. It means huge sav­ings in wa­ter-heat­ing costs and less need to use chem­i­cals.

Pack­ag­ing is usu­ally a one-use prod­uct and hugely waste­ful. These fungi have grown into a type of pack­ag­ing that is prac­ti­cal but also en­ergy-ef­fi­cient to make and easily biodegrad­able.

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