In short, it turns out that mushrooms can be used to clean up toxic waste including petroleum products like oil, diesel and gas. Got some contaminated soil? Throw some oyster mushroom spawn around and come back in 8 weeks. This is less expensive than any of the other ways such contaminated sites are dealt with, and the result is a living area, as along with the fruiting body (the mushroom) of the mycelium come all the little things that eat mushrooms, and the things that eat those things, and the things that live in living soil move back in. Apparently, the most common way of dealing with a lot of toxic spills is to cart the dirt off to be incinerated, an expensive, energy-intensive process that results in... a big hole in the ground.
Different mushrooms are good for different things. some consume bacteria like E. coli, and can be used to clean wastewater before it reenters a watershed, which would mean good things for aquatic life that has been suffering from our waste. And we've all heard about problems with, say, the drugs that our bodies don't completely process and thus end up in the sewers and later in the water. Mushrooms can help with (some of) those, too.
How insanely cool is that???
There's one man working in mycoremediation who's doing some really incredible stuff. Here's an article from Salon a couple of years ago about Paul Stamets, who seems to be the mycoremediation king. I have a couple of his books on hold at the library and I'm looking forward to reading them.
Some of the nifty stuff he's come up with is using mushrooms to help with reforestation efforts, by innoculating new seedlings with mycorhizal spores, which exist in a symbiotic pairing with the trees. This is an ongoing experimentHe's also used beneficial mycelium to halt the travel of malicious ones through the forest by innoculating dead trees through the use of rope spawn: a ring is cut around the trunk of the tree and a rope with the beneficial spawn is tied around that ring, touching the cambium layer and alloying the mycelium to enter not only the tree but the roots and thus the ground.
There are fungi that can be used as pesticides, as evidenced in possibly the creepiest photo we saw the whole time we were there: an ant, with mushroom erupting out its heat and consuming its body.
Also, it just so happens that mushrooms are tasty tasty good.
So I'm looking into what's involved in becoming a mycologist. Because, really, saving the world + tasty food? What could be better? kcatalyst keeps whispering "grad school" at me, but it looks like mycology may be one scientific field I could get into without going back to school. If anyone knows anything about getting into mycology, I'd be happy to hear from you. In the meantime, I'm ordering some mushrooms to grow in the back yard this summer.