By Eliabel Legrand
Imagine eating a meal made from recycled plastic. This idea may seem absurd now because purposefully eating plastic would be an odd thing to do. Ingesting plastic even microscopic amounts affects our health. There are chemicals in plastic that are linked to numerous health problems, such as cancer, nervous system problems, and loss of hearing. So why would we willingly eat plastic?
We have a major plastic problem with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch,which is about 1.6 million square kilometers as of 2018. However, with the Fungi Mutarium, we may be able to make our meals from recycled plastic.
An Austrian based research group named “Livin group” has devised an ingenious way to turn plastic into edible treats. One of the designers, Katherine Unger, said, “They were both [ Julia Kaisinger and herself ] really inspired by the idea that something digests plastic, but then still creates edible biomass.”
The idea came from a study done by Yale University in 2012, where they found a rare mushroom in the Amazon called Pestalotiopsis microspora that was able to break down polyurethane, which is the main ingredient used in plastics. Not only could this fungus live purely off polyurethane, but it could also do so in an anaerobic (oxygen-free) environment, which resembles the bottom of a landfill.
The technology, called Fungi Mutarium,was first presented to the world in 2014, but to this day, it is not commercially available and is still undergoing research.
The process of turning the plastic into an edible treat can be narrowed down six steps:
The plastic is UV treated in the “Activation Cylinder”, where the UV light sterilizes the plastic and activates the degradation process of the plastic, making it more accessible for the fungi.
Agar “FU” (see diagrams below) is placed in the mutarium growth sphere.
The UV sterilized plastic is then placed in the “FU” ready to be digested.
“Macerate” (fungi sprouts in liquid nutrient solution) are extracted from the Fungi Nursery with a pipette.
The extracted “Macerate” is dropped into the “FU’s” to start the growing process
After a couple of weeks, the “FU’s” are ready to be removed and eaten.
This video shows the Fungi Mutarium process and gives a brief overview of its function.
How it Works
The Fungi Mutarium uses “FU’s” to break down the plastic. The “FU’s” are made from agar, glucose, and starch (as seen in the diagram above.) The degraded plastic is then placed inside of the dome. Macerate is then also added to the dome, as the mushrooms ( P. ostreatus and S. commune ) grow. They feed off the plastic and the nutrients of the dome walls. After multiple weeks the plastic completely decomposes, leaving behind nothing but an agar dome covered with edible white fluffy mycelium ( the vegetative part of fungus). The mushrooms don’t retain any of the toxins from the plastic in their cells. This means that in theory, they are safe for us to consume.
The idea has yet to go through more testing and peer review, so it may be a while before these smart machines become commercially used.
Unger said, "We were mainly there in the lab to ask questions that designers ask and stimulate our researchers to think differently about the work that they’re doing and also about the possible applications of it.”
The mushrooms used are both commonly found, p. ostreatus is more widely known as pearl oyster mushrooms and can be found in supermarkets. S. commune, also known as spilt gill fungus is the world's most widely distributed mushroom, occurring on every continent except Antarctica. The availability of the mushrooms compared to other species is yet another positive testimony for the Fungi Mutarium technology.
The ability to turn plastic into food would have many advantages. This technology reduces the amount of plastic we have and uses the plastic, which is thrown out, to make food. There is much room for creativity, as you can flavor and play around with the food and its presentation. Given that it is made from agar, it probably has quite a mild taste allowing it to be either sweet or savory.
Would you eat this plastic to fungi dish?
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