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DW: What can fungi teach us?


June 19,2021

Fungi are true survival specialists. They can live without air and sunlight, and cope with heat and cold. Some species of fungi even emit radiation. So what lessons do fungi have for the people who study them?

Fungi belong to some of the oldest living organisms on Earth. There are over 120 thousand known species of fungi, and it’s estimated there could be far more – over six million worldwide. And they’re everywhere – out-of-doors, and in the bodies of humans and animals.

Some researchers believe that fungi can provide clues as to how humans can better adapt to global warming, because they’ve survived every major climate change that’s taken place over the course of millions of years.

Professor Vera Meyer, of the European think tank EUROFUNG says, “We must more precisely examine and exploit the diversity of fungi.” The scientists have another objective as well: They hope to use fungi to develop innovative, organic production methods. In the not too distant future, it may be possible to “grow” fungi-based fabrics, packaging, furniture and perhaps even building materials.

What is known as fungal biotechnology has long played a major role in the chemical and pharmaceutical industry. Yeast fungus is the primary component of bread and beer. Other fungi are used to produce enzymes to make food, detergents, paper and medicines. Life-saving penicillin is based on mold fungi, and fungal components could be used to develop the next generation of antibiotics. Yet when spores cause mysterious diseases, a fungus among us can also pose a serious health threat.

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