The Future of Funghi

Mushrooms have been an integral part of our everyday lives. They are always beside us, yet go unnoticed by many. How can these organisms help pave the way for future innovations?


Here are different types of mushrooms laid on the table after foraging. Photo Credit: Andrew Ridley / UnSplash

Mushrooms, mushrooms, mushrooms.

Every day, you can see the influences of them everywhere from games like Super Mario Brothers to The Last of Us, to designs like the mushroom lamp and mushroom seats. Mushrooms have found a place in our hearts. They’re living, but not plants, the fruit of larger fungi underground. They obtain nutrients not by photosynthesis, but by growing around food sources and absorbing the nutrients externally. Funny enough, mushrooms are more closely related to animals than plants! Instead of seeds, the fungi produce mushrooms with spores, which spread and germinate in the right environment. They are often used to cook many dishes and are considered a very nutritious type of vegetable. While they’re extremely useful, people tend to be scared of them due to depictions of fungi being poisonous in the media. Although they are conceivably harmful, they can also bring a lot of good to humanity itself. 

One explanation for why mushrooms are being viewed in a negative light is the portrayal of mushrooms by the media. Since there’s not much research that has been done on mushrooms, people aren’t sure what mushrooms can do to them.  When The Last of Us dropped, there was worry about whether or not mushrooms could actually do the things that happened in the show, turning people into fungi-affected zombies. People began asking Mycologists along with other fungi-knowledgeable people about the strange microorganism. Then, the truth came out and everyone collectively took a sigh of relief. Although mushrooms are capable of inducing a zombie-like state in insects, there is no possible way for the same to be done to humans.

However, some people are still skeptical. Their fears might not be all based on falsehood. There have been many cynical takes about the nature of mushrooms in media, ranging from past works such as The Voice in the Night (1907) to more recent works like What Moves the Dead, by T. Kingfisher (2022). All of this media contributes to peoples’ paranoia about these microorganisms.

Mushrooms are also adapting. The increased global temperatures have accelerated fungi mutations and caused them to spread more quickly. This allows the mushrooms to get used to the new temperatures relatively quickly. Then, there are also the parasitic fungi. Many other animal species have been attacked by fungus infections, examples including but not limited to bats, snakes, and turtles. These new mutations allow the mushrooms to grow, and although humans have nothing to worry about yet, the future remains uncertain. One day, mushrooms might adapt to survive higher temperatures within the human body. The fact that oyster mushrooms have the ability to eat worm flesh is already quite horrendous. 

One of the many unusual things about mushrooms is their ability to spread spores. There have been spores found in the atmosphere, traveling around by strong wind. However, they are not likely to survive the long journey, and most spores technically stay localized and are spread by animals. Then there’s mycelium, which are large underground networks that stretch tens to hundreds of miles, sometimes even longer. It’s wild to think about the possibility of an entire living system of microorganisms existing that humans don’t know well enough. The mycelium is able to communicate to some extent, passing food supplies around so the entire system can survive. It works eerily similarly to animal and human nervous systems by using electrical impulses and electrolytes.

Amanita muscaria (fly agaric/fly amanita) is poisonous and infamous for its psychoactive and hallucinogenic properties. This mushroom can be used as an insecticide. (Егор Камелев / Unsplash)

Fungus is also extremely dangerous at times, with fungus infection being extremely common in New York, and being hard to fight. Fungi are similar to humans, so it’s hard to fight fungi while not also fighting one’s own immune system. For example, there are the Destroying Angel mushrooms and the dead man’s fingers, both of which are poisonous and can lead to death if consumed. The ergot fungus is also quite dangerous, playing a huge part in the Salem Witch Hunt, where innocent people were condemned due to the accidental intake of ergot. Ergot forms hallucinogenic drugs in bread, and victims who consume it might appear bewitched. There are also other symptoms, which could result in stillborn children, along with spasms and cardiovascular trouble. Rye ergot had been infected much back in 1691 and later down the line, and symptoms were blamed on witches.

Despite mushrooms having many negative attributes, they have the potential to do more good than harm. We already use mushrooms in our daily lives — to eat, to cook, and as decorations. Mushrooms have become a very popular design choice, with many adopting these styles in their homes and everyday lives. “I love the fairy core aesthetic, and mushrooms seem to be gaining popularity in the fashion industry with new styles such as cottage core and fairy core,” said Khado Tsephel ’23. We see mushrooms in many different kinds of games today. For example, the Super Mario Brothers video game designers based their designs on these microorganisms. Everything has been mushroom-themed, which experts attribute to the increased knowledge of mushrooms.

Many people don’t know much about mushrooms, leaving them with a negative impression. “I know they are fungi and can be used for all kinds of things. However, aside from general knowledge, I don’t know much else about them,” said Nicholas Anderson ’25. Maybe, mushrooms have just been misunderstood. With the bad connotation attached to mushrooms, people don’t tend to see the wide potential mushrooms hold. As people are opening up to mushrooms and thinking of them as a sign of regeneration and rebirth instead of death and decay, they start to see the benefits of mushrooms as a whole.

Mushrooms offer a variety of health benefits as they are low in calories and high in nutrients like vitamin D and selenium. Those nutrients support the immune system and promote weight management. Mushrooms also contain antioxidants that protect the body from harmSpecific mushrooms may also have the power to reduce the risk of suffering from deleterious diseases. One such example is the shiitake mushroom, which reduces the risk of cancer, with the sugar molecule in shiitake called lentinan enhancing the immune system.

Pictured are pink oyster mushrooms growing on the ground. These mushrooms taste like bacon or ham (their flavor intensifies after cooking). Delicious and full of nutrients, pink oysters contain selenium, choline, and folate. (Timothy Dykes / Unsplash)

Mushrooms can also serve as a new alternative to meat. Many companies like MeatiMushroomeat, and MyForest Foods make their products almost entirely from mushrooms, using mycelium (the fungal threads of mushroom roots) to create delicious and healthy vegan meat. Since mycelium is very similar to muscle tissue, it’s easy to transform the threads of mycelium into anything. You can now eat mushroom-made burgers, bacon, kebabs, steak, and tacos. Plus, there are many mushrooms that taste like normal everyday foods, including the Lion’s Mane mushrooms. They taste similar to seafood, with people using them as lobster and crab meat substitutes. Many types of meat can be substituted for mushrooms. “Mushrooms have become a great substitute for many carbs. Their easy growth is also good as they can be mass-produced and usually for very low prices,” said Louis Barbosa ’25.

Mushrooms also play an integral role in the field of psychedelics, with a recent study finding that naturally occurring psychedelics, such as psilocybin, can be used to promote neuroplasticity and lessen addiction. In 2022, there was a study conducted that indicated that psilocybin therapy greatly reduced the quantity of alcoholic beverages alcoholics consumed. . This treatment can help many with their downward spiral of addiction and is a huge step forward in the field of mental health and medication. Oregon legalized this type of therapy early 2023. The scientific interest in this field has only been increasing, with people experimenting with hallucinogenic mushrooms to treat PTSD. Currently, psilocybin is considered safe with rare serious side effects. Psychedelics also have an extremely low chance of addiction and overdose, making it safer for people to take.

It should be noted that scientists have yet to confirm the effects of psychedelics in the long-term. Although psychedelic mushrooms may be useful for some, they also have the potential to be dangerous. Hallucinogens may trigger psychotic or manic episodes in people with serious mental disorders, including bipolar and schizophrenia. Additionally, there is a chance that the threshold for certain disorders may decrease, with people who previously reported having little to no problems developing schizophrenia. study also reported that a third of the people with bipolar disorder had their symptoms worsen after taking psilocybin, with some having to seek emergency care. Psilocybin also increases blood pressure and heart rate, so people with heart conditions are advised to not take them. Although psilocybin is relatively harmless, with overuse, it might become a serious problem for people. Nevertheless, psychotherapy has wide potential, and with people being cautious, these discoveries might help more people.

There are also many talks of mushrooms making it in the clothing industry. Companies like Microworks have been using mycelium to make Reishi, which looks and feels similar to leather. Although the pricing is rather expensive now (Mycroworks has not disclosed the exact price, but notes the production cost is rather high), over time the price will definitely become affordable due to the company finding cheaper ways to make Reishi. With the leather market already being huge and with the synthetic leather market being even larger, mushrooms can bring a lot to the table. This method of making leather may also solve another problem, the use of plastic in leather. With only a few steps to make Reishi, it reduces a lot of future plastic pollution while also having a low impact on the environment. Another company, Ecovative Design LLC, uses mushrooms to provide alternatives to plastic and polystyrene foams. Mushrooms can be used in many ways to better the environment.

Climate change has been an ongoing issue, with many of its prevalent problems worsening. However, it was recently discovered that mycelium can help the fight against climate change. Funguses can do many things to help the environment, including storing huge amounts of CO2 underground, helping plants survive by fighting off pests, and providing water and nutrients to plants and trees, along with many other necessities. With these fungi species protected, the earth may have a better chance to thrive. One such fungus, the mycorrhizal fungi, has a symbiotic relationship with plants, with the network giving plants needed nutrients from the soil itself, and the plant giving the fungi carbon in exchange. Without fungi, there will be a larger amount of carbon dioxide in the air, heating up the atmosphere further. Fungus has helped trees adapt for a long time and could be a decisive factor in trees adapting to the ongoing changes in weather.

Mushrooms have a vast variety of biodiversity, with each mushroom being widely different from each other despite being in the same kingdom. Every mushroom holds massive potential on its own, people should focus on protecting these eukaryotic organisms. Fungi, like many other organisms, are extremely sensitive to human activity. Chemical fertilizers  and deforestation both decrease the overall mushroom population. The protection of mushrooms needs to be done right away, with fungi populations disappearing right before our eyes.

As people explore more about mushrooms, the misconceptions surrounding mushrooms will eventually be resolved. “Mushrooms are charming, and that is a hill I will die on. There is so much diversity among mushrooms in terms of appearance, and many of them have interesting quirks such as being incredibly toxic or being carnivorous. They also have that fairycore aesthetic that I adore,” said Katrina Tablang ’23.

“Mushrooms are charming, and that is a hill I will die on. There is so much diversity among mushrooms in terms of appearance, and many of them have interesting quirks such as being incredibly toxic or being carnivorous. They also have that fairycore aesthetic that I adore,” said Katrina Tablang ’23.