Cleaning oil spills with mushrooms

On April 20 2010, a large explosion took place on BP-owned drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico. For days on end, thousands of litres of oil are pouring into the ocean, killing birds, fish and sea turtles across the gulf. It took BP almost three months to reduce the size of the spill, but the damage was already done and will remain visible over the past years, if not decades.

In an attempt to break up the oil slick that covered the surface, BP dumped millions of litres of toxic chemical dispersant into the ocean.

“There is a chemical toxicity to the dispersant compound that in many ways is worse than oil,” said Richard Charter, a foremost expert on marine biology and oil spills who is a senior policy advisor for Marine Programs for Defenders of Wildlife and is chairman of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council. “It’s a trade off – you’re damned if you do damned if you don’t -- of trying to minimize the damage coming to shore, but in so doing you may be more seriously damaging the ecosystem offshore.”

In a statement mycologist Paul Stamets presents his ideas of applying mycoremediation as a solution for cleaning up the oil spill. The idea is simple: fungi can help absorb or decompose toxins.

In 1994 already, Stamets proposed for so called Mycological Response Teams (MRTs), mycoremediation solutions in the case of catastrophes such as hurricanes and oil spills.

We know that various enzymes present in mycelium – in particular those in oyster mushrooms - are able to breakdown a wide assortment of toxins. Now is the time to learn how this can be applied in future oil spills.

Click to read the statement of Paul Stamets.