The amazing properties of fungi are manifold: they can bio-remediate contaminated soils, lubricate chainsaws, act as medicine, eat polyurethane and diapers -- and of course, some varieties are quite delicious to eat too.
Seen over at Dezeen, Austrian designer Katarina Unger -- founder of Livin Studio and known for her previous work on this countertop incubator for edible insects -- joined forces with designer Julia Kaisinger and the University of Utrecht to develop Fungi Mutarium, a prototype that would cultivate an edible mushroom product, while also digesting plastic waste as it grows.
Outfitted with agar-based pods, in which the fungal spores are inserted into via a pipette, the fungi feeds off plastic waste and overtakes the agar shell as it grows. The idea is to experiment how to "grow food on toxic waste," explain the designers:
Fungi Mutarium is a prototype that grows edible fungal biomass, mainly the mycelium, as a novel food product. Fungi is cultivated on specifically designed agar shapes that the designers called "FU". Agar is a seaweed based gelatin substitute and acts, mixed with starch and sugar, as a nutrient base for the fungi. The "FUs" are filled with plastics. The fungi is then inserted, it digests the plastic and overgrows the whole substrate. The shape of the "FU" is designed so that it holds the plastic and to offer the fungi a lot of surface to grow on.
Two edible species of fungi were used: oyster (Pleurotus Ostreatus) and split gill (Schizophyllum Commune) mushroom. The fungal cultures are kept in a liquid holding tank on the left, and piped into the incubation chamber on the right, into the smaller pods that the designers have nicknamed "FU". Also deposited inside the pods is plastic material that the mycelium can feed on.
Below the incubation chamber is another chamber where the plastic material is sterilized with ultraviolet light.
According to Unger, the complete process for the fungi to digest both the plastic takes a few months, but the team is hoping to speed it up after more experiments to optimize it. Unger also envisions that these prototypes could be used in a mass production setting, to create a "small farm" of sorts.
One of the more intriguing aspects of the project involves the parallel designing of utensils for the consumption of FU -- ranging from a "Moon Spoon" for scraping, a tubular "Hollknife" that both cuts and acts as a straw, and chopstick-like "Round Chops" for carrying pods from incubator to plate. The cutlery has been so well-received that the designers plan to launch a Kickstarter campaign to commercially produce them.
Might this be the future of food, where mushrooms eat sterilized plastic waste, which then becomes food for us? It's a provocative idea that could clean up plastic pollution and feed the world at the same time, but we'll have to wait to see if it becomes a reality. More over at Dezeen and Livin Studio.