Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter

The Fungus among Us

Ahuva Sofer

Fungi serve a major role in the maintenance of our world. And believe it or not, fungus has saved many lives. Welcome to the fascinating world of fungi

Sunday, April 22, 2018

 Mishpacha image


I t’s time to spring-clean your knapsack. You’re emptying out all the long-forgotten papers and prizes when you come across a nectarine — but it doesn’t look anything like the fresh nectarine you tossed in your briefcase just a few weeks before. It’s covered in little splotches of green and white fuzz. Ew, what is that?

Actually, it’s fungus. It might be ew, but it’s also important. Fungi serve a major role in the maintenance of our world. And believe it or not, fungus has saved many lives. Welcome to the fascinating world of fungi. 

What is Fungus, Anyway?

Does that mold creeping across the ceiling look alive to you? Well, actually, that’s because it is. Fungi are a group of living organisms consisting of mold, yeast, and mycelium (the root) and mushrooms (the fruit). Fungus feeds off living or non-living things. There are about 1.5 million kinds of fungi in the world. That’s a lot of fungus among us!

Cleaning Crew

Fungi is not just gross, though. Fungi can be fun! And more importantly, useful. Fungi breaks down organisms that could become poisonous and restores important nutrients to the soil. Fungi are kind of like the official “cleaning crew” of Planet Earth!

Mycologists are scientists who study fungi. Some mycologists spend their entire lives finding ways to clean the planet with fungi! Paul Stamets, a mycologist, saw that lakes and rivers were becoming polluted with bacteria, oil, or chemicals. Stamets knew that there are mushrooms that would “eat” these dangerous toxins and make the water safe again. He started the Ocean Blue Project to clean up lakes and rivers that became contaminated with poisonous toxins. Stamets grows toxin-eating fungi and then sends them to contaminated areas. The mushrooms soak up the pollutants, and the water becomes safe again. 

Working Hard

Fungus can even clean up radiation. In 1986, there was an accident at a nuclear power plant in Chernobyl in the former USSR. Deadly doses of radiation were released, and Chernobyl became unsafe for people and animals.

But recently, a new form of black mushroom fungus was found growing in Chernobyl. Although the radiation killed all living things, these mushrooms were actually feeding off the radiation! The mushrooms are slowly removing the radiation from the area, leaving it cleaner and safer. There’s even a name for this: using fungi to clean up radioactive waste is called mycoremediation.

There’s also a kind of fungus that lives off plastic. Researchers have recently discovered a new kind of mushroom among mounds of plastic garbage in Pakistan. This is great news, because plastic does not biodegrade, meaning it does not rot and disintegrate. Plastic basically sticks around forever, piling up and polluting the planet. Scientists are studying this plastic-eating fungus in the hope of using it to solve the plastic-pollution problem.

Lucky Hosts 

There’s fungus among us, but did you know there’s also fungus inside us? We are all hosts to healthy fungi that live in our digestive system. Good fungi work together with the bacteria in our bodies to promote healthy digestion and prevent diseases. Thank those fungal guests for coming! (Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 706)

Related Stories

Teen Fiction: Open Doors (inspired by true events)

Brocha Miller

Yes, it was wonderful that everyone knew each other’s schedule. Yes, it was convenient to have your ...

Crisscross: Chapter 17

Tovy Mann

I’d been sure it was about Yael. How could it be about me? I feel chills running up and down my spin...

Claim to Fame: Ruth Finkelstein's Mendel the Mouse

C.B. Lieber

Mrs. Finkelstein began writing about Mendel the Mouse in the 1970s and kept it up for over 22 years....

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.

What Are We Supposed to Do?
Rabbi Moshe Grylak A tried-and-true remedy — and it shook the heavens
Badgered into Submission
Yonoson Rosenblum Avatars of political correctness in search of dissenters
Drinking Doubt Away
Eytan Kobre Meaning is indispensable for generating happiness
Checks and Balances III
Mishpacha Readers The conversation continues...
Memorable Melodies of Modzhitz
Rabbi Mordechai Besser The struggling survivors became kings in shul on Shabbos
A Whole Song and Dance
Rabbi Ron Yitzchak Eisenman One of those small acts that are giant leaps of chesed
Jacob L. Freedman MD "Each Jewish woman is a bas Melech, Dr. Freedman!"
Streamlined Service
Riki Goldstein "JewishMusic Stream is still about classic kosher music”
Perfect Harmony
Riki Goldstein "The arrangements literally changed the entire song"
Hang On to the Glow
Riki Goldstein Back to the warm camp Shabbos memories
Marking Miracles
Faigy Peritzman The miracles are there, but our eyes are blind to them
Going Against the Current
Sarah Chana Radcliffe Wise to deny our kids something all their friends have?
Clothed in Splendor
Mrs. Elana Moskowitz When dressing up is spiritual, not superficial
The Spokesman: Part IV
D. Himy, M.S. CCC-SLP and Zivia Reischer Every sentence tells a story; make yours well told