At INRA PACA and more specifically at the BBF mixed research unit (Fungal Biodiversity and Biotechnology) at the Luminy campus of Aix Marseille University, within the Marseille Polytech Engineering School (Biotechnology Department), people are preparing for the future with mushrooms.

Jean-Claude Sigoillot, Director of the BBF unit, firmly believes that: “with mushroom enzymes, we can replace all the petrol derivatives with products that are better for the environment.” There are around thirty laboratories around the world working on the capacity of some mushrooms to degrade wood and also straw and plant waste, using their enzymes. The molecules produced by this phenomenon can then be used in chemical procedures with many uses: bleaching paper paste without using chlorine, digesting the inks on recycled paper or producing agglomerate wood furniture without formaldehyde.

But the best direction to develop is that of biofuel. These mushrooms breakdown the lignin in wood and do not touch the cellulose, resulting in a sugar that, fermented by yeast, produces ethanol. At Luminy, there are nearly 2,000 strains of mushrooms being studied, many of which come from Guyana. This new sector could help reduce the production of ethanol from beets or sugar cane, used today for its edible part. The BBF unit’s research programme is part of a more global project called Futurol, which “hopes to launch a process, technologies and products (yeasts and enzymes) on the market to ensure the production of second generation bioethanol using whole plants and also farming and forest co-products, green waste and other ligno-cellulosic biomass,” and has a budget of nearly 80 M€.

Further proof that mushrooms, delicious on a plate, are also man’s best friend.

Plastic is fantastic!

The mushroom may be king of the wild but it also interests designers and geeks. Two Austrian women have designed a virtuous and futuristic farm: the Fungi Mutarium.

FungiMutarium1_credit_KatharinaUnger_JuliaKaisingerBeyond its flavour qualities, we have all already witnessed the potential powers of mushrooms. Some consider them to be the future saviour of humanity, in particular because of their ability to decompose organic matter. In the meantime, two Austrian designers, Julia Kaisinger and Katharina Unger, have designed a prototype that combines taste and recycling. In collaboration with scientists from the microbiology department of Utrecht University in the Netherlands, the two young women have created the Fungi Mutarium, a funny piece of furniture on four legs that looks like it belongs in a spaceship rather than on Earth. It is a mycelium nursery and a mini mushroom farm under a transparent dome.

FungiMutarium2_credit_KatharinaUnger_JuliaKaisingerThere is no water or soil to grow the mushrooms, just a growing medium in the shape of an egg made of agar-agar, sugar and starch, like the agar media used in laboratories (made of agar-agar, water and minerals). In these little beds, sterilised plastic is installed under a UV lamp (a special compartment is designed for this under the dome), then a few drops of mycelium are added. And then we wait. And wait. You need to be patient as the plastic decomposition that enables the mushrooms inflorescence in the shape of an upside-down conical hat can take a few weeks. The next research phase will focus on accelerating the process, using several variables like temperature and humidity, for example. But already, despite the futuristic and unappealing look, the mushrooms obtained in this environment are clearly perfectly edible. To find out more, I recommend watching this video: Fungi Mutarium: Prototype.? ?Recycling extremely polluting materials like plastic to cook up delicious dishes…now there’s a future that smells like the fabulous forest.? ?Magda

Bees and mushrooms

Thanks to a somewhat lucky discovery by American mycologist Paul Stamets, a new opportunity for saving endangered bees is opening up. It involves mushrooms.


Wearing his mushroom-shaped hat,Paul Stamets (who I have already mentioned here) can’t even believe it himself. On stage in San Rafael (California), with an audience of fans who have come to the 25th conference of Bioneers, a non-profit organisation promoting good practices and innovative solutions to meet environmental and bio-cultural challenges, he made an exciting and new revelation: bees need mushrooms.


Paul Stamets found no research on this topic, no published documents at all. It’s worth mentioning that he would never have made the connection if he hadn’t seen it one day in his own garden. Looking closely at the ground where he was growing his mushrooms, he came nose-to-nose with bees. They had carefully dug the ground to reach the mycelium and suck it greedily. The performance lasted 40 days non-stop, from dawn to dusk. Paul Stamets remembered this anecdote when his friend, director Louie Schwartzberg, asked him how we could save the bees from the programmed destruction caused by mankind.


After running a few studies, supported in particular by American entomologist Walter S. Sheppard, Paul Stamets observed that the bees used the mycelium of certain mushrooms that grow under trees (birch in particular) to improve their immune system. This is the case of the Red belted polypore, the tinder fungus, the Chaga and the red Lingzhi (known to help against arthritis). The Chaga mushroom also regulates the population of the Varroa, a parasitic mite associated with adult bees.


From this discovery, Paul Stamets is currently developing a functional food for honey bees, MycoHoney. But, most importantly he is demonstrating, as if it was still necessary, the urgency of fighting deforestation which is mechanically eliminating these mushrooms and, through a knock-on effect, bees.


Watch the conference with Paul Stamets: