The Fungi Foundation, the world’s first non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated to fungi, seeks to raise awareness about the role fungi can play in mitigating climate change and increasing biodiversity.
Giuliana Furci, a mycologist and founder of the Fungi Foundation believes that while more people are speaking about the need for sustainable agriculture, the role of fungi are often absent from the conversation.
"Soil health is all the rage these days, but we’re missing the fungi in that," Furci told Food Tank. "It’s very safe to say that without fungi there would be no soil."
The interdependence of plants and fungi has evolved over millions of years. Mycelium — the intricate root system that feeds growing fungi and cleanses the soil of toxins — breaks down organic matter and provides plants with both water and nutrient rich soil. Beyond that, the mycorrhizal network is responsible for sequestering up to 70 percent of plants’ carbon, and holding it there indefinitely.
"Fungi have been proven to be the organisms in the boreal forests that sequester the largest amount of carbon in a forest system," she said.
Furci, based in Chile, helped the country become the first in the world to include the Fungi Kingdom in its environmental legislation. This allows Chilean fungi to be included in the study and evaluation of environmental impacts throughout the country as well as the country’s environmental protection laws.
Ninety percent of plants have a mutually beneficial relationship with fungi. And according to a study from Nature, fungal biodiversity determines plant biodiversity, ecosystem variability and productivity. "As [mycologist] Paul Stamets likes to say, microdiversity is biosecurity," Furci said. She believes the protection of fungi is essential to support planetary health.
After a decade of successfully working on research, education and conservation of mushrooms and other Fungi Kingdom members in Chile, the foundation recently expanded its programs globally.
Mycelium can degrade plastic and crude oil, and absorb radioactive contaminants and heavy metals.
The foundation is working with international mycologists, field experts, local harvesters and guides around the world. Together, they hope to better understand and protect the Fungi kingdom and communicate its potential as a contributor to nature-based solutions of global problems. The new U.S. chapter’s board of directors includes Stamets, Nathalie Kelley and Joanna Foster.
As the foundation grows, Furci hopes that they can continue to raise awareness of the extensive benefits of fungi.
Furci highlights research conducted by Stamets in conjunction with Washington State University, which led to the discovery of a mushroom extract that can protect bee populations. She believes this intervention could prove to be significant as bee populations decline.
Mycelium also can be used as a recycling agent to clean up contamination in the environment through a process called mycoremediation. Studies show that mycelium can degrade plastic and crude oil, and absorb radioactive contaminants and heavy metals.
But Furci tells Food Tank that fungi also can serve other purposes. "What we’re seeing today is a very prolific use of mycelium to substitute materials," Furci said. Mycelium can act as a natural and environment-friendly alternative for plastic and styrofoam packaging, which does not decompose.
She believes that as more people become aware of the utility of fungi, they will begin to value the important role they play. "It’s obvious, it was obvious, it was just a matter of time all along. There is nothing cooler on earth than fungi."