Today’s Solutions: January 28, 2023

The efforts by Paul Stamets

Jay Walljasper | November 2004 issue

The future of human civilization might increasingly be dependent upon the new technologies of “mycoremediation” and “mycofiltration.” If that sounds uncomfortably futuristic, or even frightening in a science fiction horror story sort of way, don’t worry. What we’re talking about here is mushrooms.

These terms refer to mushrooms’ newfound ability to break down toxic substances to harmless natural compounds. And it is why Paul Stamets, a former logger turned scientific researcher, believes these lowly fungi can keep us healthy, clean up environmental toxins safe, produce naturally safe pesticides, and even protect us from chemical weapons.

Stamets runs a small gourmet and medicinal mushroom business in the U.S. state of Washington, well-situated in the fungi-friendly dampness of the Olympic rainforest, and has written seminal books on the cultivation of mushrooms. But Stamets and his wife Dusty Yao have also built a state-of-the-art research facility where they work on contracts for such unlikely clients as the Pentagon, the University of Arizona Medical School, and the Washington state Department of Transportation.

No less a source than Jane’s Defence Weekly, the authoritative journal of military affairs, has reported upon Stamets’s experimental success in deploying mushrooms to neutralize deadly nerve gas agents like Sarin and VX. The mushrooms he used to accomplish this are native to old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest, leading Stamets to propose, “ We should be saving our old-growth forests as a matter of national defense.”

In another surprising experiment, Washington state transportation officials commissioned Stamets to find ways to detoxify soil massively contaminated by diesel fuel. Setting oyster mushrooms loose on the site, Stamets was able to break down 95 percent of hydrocarbon waste in eight weeks, meeting requirements that the soil be deemed safe enough to use for highway landscaping.

Stamets, who has discovered two entirely new species of mushrooms, attributes mushrooms’ amazing powers to the fact that fungi are actually vast and intricate underground networks. The mushrooms we see that pop up in our backyard or the forest floor are only the “fruit” of an extensive fungal organism, called mycelium, that can cover as much as 2000 acres.

And like mushrooms themselves, Stamets’ groundbreaking research into the detoxifying properties of mushrooms may be only the tip of the fungi. Leading-edge pharmaceutical researchers are exploring fungi’s use in antiviral medications and, with the widespread problem of antibiotic resistance, in new strains of antibiotics. Stamets, meanwhile, is exploring one fungi’s potential to halt the spread of malaria. – JW

For more information: Fungi Perfecti, Box 7634, Olympia, WA 98507, USA,

Print this article
More of Today's Solutions

Why a clover lawn is so much better than a grass lawn

Americans use more than 7 billion gallons of water a day on their lawns. Over half of that doesn't even help lawns. People overwater, ...

Read More

Oakland-based startup is 3D-printing homes in 24 hours

We have previously written about a nonprofit called New Story that was building the world’s first 3D-printed neighborhood for impoverished people in Mexico. Now, ...

Read More

This novel hearing aid works like a contact lens for the ears

Although hearing aids can be helpful at improving auditory sensations in people with hearing problems, most of these devices use a tiny speaker that ...

Read More

James Webb Space Telescope officially launches into space

As most of us were celebrating Christmas morning in December 2021, NASA was celebrating a different event: the successful launch of the James Webb Space ...

Read More