Fungi are freaking amazing: Give them enough time and they will eat anything, even the toxins spread over polluted sites around the world. Mohamed Hijri, a professor at the University of Montreal, figured — why wait for nature to take its time neutralizing the damage we’ve done to the planet? Why not urge it along? And so he started identifying the fungi and microorganisms that do the best job at cleaning up toxins.

Fast Company explains:

Working with a Montreal oil company responsible for several toxic sites, Hijri has collected a biological clean-up team that can turn what’s basically a moonscape into something habitable (at least by some species) over the course of just a few years. First, willow trees are planted in dense stands to soak up the heavy metal contamination and store it in the plant’s cells. Then, each season, the trees’ stems and leaves are burned, creating an ash residue full of heavy metals. Finally, specially selected (but naturally occurring) fungi and bacteria are released to metabolize the petrochemical waste. Even a highly contaminated soil, says Hijri, can be cleaned within a few seasons.

And then we can make cars out of them! Truly, it is the circle of life.

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