They’re good in salads, lovely with pasta … and great for the earth? The humble mushroom could help clean up everything from oil spills to pesticides, thanks to a new technology called mycoremediation. Mushroom expert Paul Stamets pioneered the technology against the bacteria E. coli and then partnered with scientists at the Pacific Northwest National Labs to try it against environmental toxins. The technology uses the natural ability of fungi to break down dead plants and animals to accelerate decomposition of petroleum products. In a field study, fungi appeared to be remarkably successful at cleansing soil contaminated with oil and other petroleum products, making them a potentially powerful ally in the battle to clean up the 24,000 oil spills that occur in the U.S. every year. The scientists behind mycoremediation are also optimistic that the process could help limit environmental damage caused by agricultural runoff.

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