Mushrooms are the large, edible fruiting bodies that grow from a wide variety of fungi belonging to the phylum Basidiomycota. Although low in fat content, mushrooms are a good source of essential nutrients, vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates, dietary fiber, and medicinal compounds known to promote health (Mattila et al. 2001; Stamets 2005; Cheung 2010; Reis et al. 2012). Mushrooms are also one of the few foods that produce vitamin D, a modulator of human immune function and a major mitigating factor in many diseases (Stamets 2005). Unlike plants, fungi excrete extracellular enzymes that degrade macromolecules in the external environment, enabling growth on a variety of substrates that may otherwise harbor nutrients in nonbioavailable forms, including, but not limited to, carbohydrates and lignocellulosic materials (Read and Perez-Moreno 2003). These biodegradative properties of fungi also make them ideal organisms for use in the nutrification of materials used as plant growth substrates. Many fungi are also known plant symbionts, with their mycorrhizal associations providing plants with supplementary nutrition that results in increased yields and pathogen protection, among other benefit (Finlay 2008).
We are currently involved in a 2-year project, funded with a $60,000 grant by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop two low-footprint, high-yield mushroom grow facilities from modified 20-foot cargo shipping containers. Emphasis is placed on insulation for use in a variety of climates, automation of environmental (temperature/humidity/CO2) regulation, and utilizing agricultural waste materials as growth substrates.
In additiona to food products, many fungi posess unique metabolic activities that may be harnessed for bioconversion and the production of useful chemicals, medicines, and more. To this end, we have started the VIP Team MycoSolutions – Solving Problems with Fungi, comprised of students and researchers from a variety of fields to develop new and interesting ways to utilize fungi.
Cheung PCK. 2010. The nutritional and health benefits of mushrooms. Nutrition Bulletin 35:292–299.
Finlay RD. 2008. Ecological aspects of mycorrhizal symbiosis: with special emphasis on the functional diversity of interactions involving the extraradical mycelium. J Exp Bot 59:1115–1126.
Mattila P, Könkö K, Eurola M, Pihlava J-M, Astola J, Vahteristo L, Hietaniemi V, Kumpulainen J, Valtonen M, Piironen V. 2001. Contents of Vitamins, Mineral Elements, and Some Phenolic Compounds in Cultivated Mushrooms. J Agric Food Chem 49:2343–2348.
Read DJ, Perez-Moreno J. 2003. Mycorrhizas and nutrient cycling in ecosystems – a journey towards relevance? New Phytologist 157:475–492.
Reis FS, Barros L, Martins A, Ferreira ICFR. 2012. Chemical composition and nutritional value of the most widely appreciated cultivated mushrooms: An inter-species comparative study. Food and Chemical Toxicology 50:191–197.
Stamets PE. 2005. Notes on Nutritional Properties of Culinary-Medicinal Mushrooms. IJM 7.