The topic of spore drive on Star Trek: Discovery and its use of mycelium is quite popular as of late. So what is mycelium? Is it true that mycelium benefits our world? What are its benefits? Can I grow mycelium and how? These are all good questions. Perhaps we can shed some light on the secrets of mycelium and have a better understanding when the topic is addressed again on the show.
WHAT IS MYCELIUM?
What is mycelium? A better question is : What is hyphae? Hyphae is a slender threadlike string part of a fungus that lives in soil. A fungus is a plant that does not require chlorophyll or the substance that changes sunlight into energy. Whatever fungi grows on, it absorbs the nutrients from there and so it is a great decomposer for an ecosystem. Its function is to decompose organic waste (made of carbon) and recycle carbon.
Supposedly, 1.3 billion years ago the first fungi made its way to land. According to microbiologists, humans and fungi are related more than one might think.
As hyphae grow underground they become longer and begin to branch off. A large mass of hyphae is called mycelium. The mycelium is perceived as a network just like our Internet full of nods and connection points. What do these networks do? They allow for evolution and rapid adaption and sharing of resources and the development of unorganized cell masses into organs and systems of organs called epigenisis.
In its literal sense, mycelium means “more than one.” It lives underground in the soil while the mushroom is the fruit of the body above ground. Mycelium is the main part of the fungus. Mostly, this web like network communicates with its counterparts and absorbs nutrients. It looks like brain cells when placed under a microscope and like brain cells, it can grow new connections and respond to stimuli in its environment.
Mycelium can sustain weight up to 30,000 times its mass. It inhales and exhales oxygen and carbon dioxide and absorbs water. They have external stomachs and lungs and can use radiation as a source of energy like plants use chlorophyll to convert light. Called “sentient membranes, mycelium underground respond to footsteps of humans as it searches for soil debris to feast on. That is, it is aware.
BENEFITS OF MYCELIUM
Mycelium benefits us in many ways and is quite a help to environment. Again, these mycelial as they are called when pluralized decompose or break down organic waste, green waste like food and garden clippings that are of carbon very efficiently They are natural water purifiers for lakes, rivers and streams because they filter out water contaminants well. Without the toxic effects of other cleaning agents, mycelium can clean oil spills and absorb the radiation. It has been known to clean up and build up polluted soil by decomposing toxic chemicals. Hydrocarbons, chemicals classically identified in industrial pollutants are easily decomposed by mycelium. These hydrocarbons are emissions of gas from automobiles and are observed in crude oil and coal and natural gas as well as plant life. Mycelium, after disintergrating the hydrocarbons or pollutants in an oil spill becomes a sentry for biological communities to develop in an ecosafe environment.
They create strong antibiotics that can fight off flu viruses and small pox. They restore soil and crumble rocks to create new soil. Have a pest infestation like termites or carpenter ants? Certain mycelium can dispel and ban them or they can be used as an insecticide to eradicate the colony in a few days. They are insect killing fungi or entomopatetic fungi. Other benefits of mycelium are quick reforestation and improvement of crop yield. Producing fungal sugars by converting cellulose- a main component in the cell walls of most plants and used to manufacture paper, textiles and explosives-mycelium can produce the fuel Econol.
The very web like structure of mycelial can be found in patterns of hurricanes, the internet, dark matter (which is used partially an explanation of why the universe’s expansion is speeding up not slowing down) and string theory (which attempts to link the four forces of nature-gravity, electromagnetism, strong nuclear forces and weak nuclear forces-to one single theory or law.
YOU CAN GROW YOUR OWN MYCELIUM
You can create your own mycelium at home. Watch it grow and decide when to stop the process once it reaches a certain level.
A mushroom, pairing knife, box cutter knife, a six-quart Pyrex container, corrugated cardboard
First Prepare Your Environment
Cut cardboard into pieces that fit well into the six-quart container using a box cutter knife. Stack these pieces into the container and fill the container with hot water for 20-30 minutes. Keep cardboard submerged by weighing it down with a something. Drain the container of water. Separate the corrugated layers from the flat layers of the cardboard. Put the flat pieces at the bottom of the container.
Mushroom Cut Into Pieces
Only using the base, cut the mushroom into tiny pieces with your paring knife. Place the mushrooms on the cardboard in the container.
Layer The Container
Layer the flat cardboard alternately with the corrugated cardboard over the top of the mushrooms. Add more mushrooms and then add more layers if you want. Repeat the cycle.
Store The Container
Put a lid on the container and store it in a dark place at room temperature of 70 degrees F. Open the box each day to release the carbon dioxide that builds up inside the container.
That’s it. You are finished. After a few days you will see mycelium growth through the cardboard. When the mycelium has reached the level you want it to grow, heat the container to stop the growth.
Remember, cut the mushroom base into tiny pieces, too large and the mushroom will grow instead of mycelium. Open the lid to the container because carbon dioxide builds up in the container as mycelium breathes. If not, it will stunt the growth or kill the mycelium altogether.
WHO IS THE LEADING RESEARCHER IN THIS FIELD?
The vote seems clear that Paul Stamets, yes, Lt. Paul Stamets of Star Trek: Discovery is named after this present day researcher, is the most knowledgeable scientist on mycelium. Technically, his scientific study of fungi is called mycology making him a scientist who studies it-a mycologist. Paul Stamets is forty years into the study and has discovered several new mushroom species.
He was born in Columbiana, OH and was presented with the 1998 Bioneers Award and many others. Born July 17, 1955, Paul Stamets loves hiking and he graduated from The Evergreen State College. Paul Stamets believes mushrooms can save the planet that he believes in its 6th extinction and humans are one of its victims—but mushrooms will survive! He has written six books including “Mycelium Running” and wants to preserve and protect mushrooms in the Pacific Northwest that face obliteration by us. Highly valuable, the mushrooms in this area may serve for great medicinal uses. Through his website Paul Stamets sponsors most of his own research. You can even sign up for a free catalog at http://www.fungi.com if you are interested in his research.
So, the string-like structure, mycelium, has many uses and benefits to the Earth and is often believed the ecosystem cannot build maturely without it. By using a container and following a few steps you can cultivate your own mycelium and observe its growth. Paul Stamets is a prominent researcher in mycology. His website http://www.fungi.com informs us more and more on the benefits of mycelium and he has written a book “Mycelium Running” that is very informative on the matter going into great detail. As he says in his book, “Mycelium can save the planet…” Maybe it can.
What do you think about mycelium and its benefits?