Thursday, March 26, 2009

Hero Worship

I have never been prone to hero worship. I guess I never found anyone interesting enough to obsess over. In 8th grade I had to write an essay on someone I admired and what I would ask them if I could have lunch with them. It was one of the hardest essays of my life. After what must have been hours of deliberation, I lamely decided on Jacques Cousteau. The problem is that while I considered him a great man, I really didn't have any questions for him or anything to talk to him about.

All that changed a few years ago when I learned about a man named Paul Stamets. He's a true bioneer, and I mean that in the original sense of the word: Biological Pioneer. He has almost single-handedly brought the science of mycology from the passive study of a little-understood kingdom of life to the forefront of bioneering. He has coined terms like mycoremediation, mycofiltration, and mycorestoration. He is a scientist, an inventor, an environmental crusader, a medical researcher and an entrepreneur. He's a man with crazy ideas, the kind so crazy they just might work. And work, they do. He knows. He tests them. His ideas have been beyond visionary. They are paradigm-changing. Here are a few examples of the projects he has taken on:

Mycological Cleanup of Diesel-Contaminated Soil
Stamets worked with the Washington Department of Transportation as a part of an experiment to clean soil contaminated with diesel fuel. Stamets used a special strain of oyster mushroom (yes, the kind you can buy at the grocery store) to get into the soil and seek out and digest the diesel fuel. Not only did it work, but the fruiting mushrooms attracted flies, which attracted birds. The birds deposited seeds on the pile, which germinated and grew, creating an oasis of life out on an old tarmac.

When Stamets found that the runoff from the cattle on his farm was contaminating his neighbor's oyster farm with E. coli, he installed a woodchip and king stropharia mushroom filter on the drainage off of his farm. The filter worked so well that the water coming off his land exceeded the criteria needed to fix his neighbor's problem.

Mycological Pest Control
After losing a house to carpenter ants, Stamets started looking into different fungus that attack and kill insects. He is now in the process of getting a patent on an all-natural fungal based product that will repel and/or kill all types of insects that have a queen (ants, termites, etc.) for up to 20 years with one application.

Anyone who is interested in finding ways to make natural systems work better would do well to buy a copy of his book Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World. Not only does it cover a wide variety of things that you can do with mushrooms, but it also covers how to do it, which mushrooms to use, how to propagate them, growing requirements, preferred food sources and much, much more. It really is the definitive work to date on using mushrooms for bioneering.. If you want to know more than what I cover in my brief posts, I strongly recommend you buy this book.

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