Fungi are simple plant forms, and include mushrooms, molds, yeasts and mildews. Unlike other plants, however, fungi do not have chlorophyll and are not capable of photosynthesis. According to the Cornell University Mushroom Blog, fungi have important culinary, medical, agricultural and industrial uses. Fungi can be used to create dyes, medications and eco-friendly building materials.
Ecovativedesign Corporation, located in Green Island, New York, makes biodegradable packaging. A unique aspect of their product is that it is grown, not manufactured. Ecovativedesign has a patented process that uses fungal mycelia to bind together the agricultural products they shape into packaging. Their product is called Ecocradle.
Ancient Egyptian physicians used moldy bread on battle wounds. Thousands of years later, Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, and there are many other medicines that have since been synthesized from fungi. Mevinolin, a compound derived from the fungus Aspergillus terreus, is the basis for the statin medications Pravastatin, Simvastatin and Lovastatin, that are used to treat high cholesterol. Alcohol and citric acid are the most abundantly produced fungal metabolites. The fungal metabolite cyclosporin is used to suppress the immune system in organ transplant recipients, according to World-of-Fungi.org.
Agriculture and Industry
The fungus Rhizopus microsporus has been found to markedly increase the efficiency of ethanol production, according to the website ScienceDaily. Ethanol is one of the most widely produced fungal metabolites. As of 2010, Iowa State University is researching ways to reduce the amount of waste in ethanol production. In standard ethanol production methods, the enzyme rich liquid by-product called “thin stillage” is largely unused. The fungus Rhizopus microsporus grows well in thin stillage, and is able to break down the majority of the solids in it. The remaining water and enzymes are then recycled back into the ethanol production process. The fungus itself can be harvested and made into livestock feed. Researchers at the University of Iowa estimate that this process will reduce the ethanol industry’s water consumption by 10 billion gallons per year. The monetary savings caused by increased efficiency of production would save the ethanol industry $800 million annually in energy costs, according to ScienceDaily.
Fungi are low in fat, contain almost no cholesterol and are rich in B vitamins. By dry weight, mushrooms are 20 to 30 percent protein that contains all of the essential amino acids. Fungal mycelia can be made into substitute hamburgers, peppered steaks and lamb. Mushrooms are a staple ingredient in many cultures' cuisines.
Lichens have a long and illustrious history of being used to create the coveted purple and red dyes worn by wealthy men and women of ancient Tyre. The first mention of lichen dyeing is found in the Bible, Ezekiel 27:7. Lichen dyes yield rich colors that are quickly absorbed by fabrics, according to the Cornell Mushroom Blog.