Truly Magical Mushrooms

Paul Stamets thinks fungi can protect us from disease, pollution, even chemical weapons


| March / April 2003



Once you’ve heard “renaissance mycologist” Paul Stamets talk about mushrooms, you’ll never look at the world—not to mention your backyard—the same way again. Stamets runs Fungi Perfecti, a family-owned gourmet and medicinal mushroom business in Shelton, Washington. His convictions about the role that mushrooms can play in the development of earth-friendly technologies and medicines have led him to collect and clone more than 250 strains of wild mushrooms—which he stores in several on- and off-site gene libraries.

Until recently, claims Stamets, mushrooms “suffered from biological racism.” But he is about to bring these fungi to the attention of the medical and environmental establishments. In collaboration with several public and private agencies, he is pioneering the use of “mycoremediation” and “mycofiltration” technologies. These involve the cultivation of mushrooms to clean up toxic waste sites, improve ecological and human health, and, in a particularly timely bit of experimentation, break down chemical warfare agents. “Fungi are the grand recyclers of the planet,” says Stamets, who predicts that bioremediation using fungi will soon be a billion-dollar industry.