Week 2: Mycelium & SCOBY

In lecture this week, we focused primarily on the world of fungi, more specifically the hugely diverse roles of mycelium. Mycelium, as we covered in class, is the network of thread-like roots that sprout mushrooms. Mycelium acts as a plant-based internet for the vast systems of forest life around it, and allows plants such as trees to communicate with one another, and even pass one another nutrients and whatever may be needed to give another tree a better chance at survival. It was really interesting to learn what the first video noted about mycelium, primarily that the trees it connects do not have any sense of competition with one another, and very much unlike human beings, they are willing to do almost anything to help each other thrive. We learned that the absolute largest mycelium extends for many miles underground. Mycelium is easy to grow and for this reason, can be seen as a great solution to many issues around the world. 


As Jae Rhim Lee described in her “Burial Suit” Ted Talk, mycelium can be used to safely decompose bodies in a way that lowers the amount of pollution caused. I had heard before this of people pursuing “green burials,” but never before had I heard of leveraging the unique properties of mycelium to achieve this end. Green burials are characterized by forgoing embalming, a process which, as Lee emphasizes, prioritizes keeping the dead appearing as though they are living. In doing so, the current funeral industry puts into the ground “20 million feet of wood, 4.3 million gallons of embalming fluids, 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete, 17,000 tons of copper and bronze, and 64,500 tons of steel” (Vatomsky, 2018). By introducing concepts such as the burial suit, we could significantly cut down on these harmful additions to our environment.


One thing that caught my attention beyond what we learned during lecture was the implications of what impacts GMOs have on our relationship with food. My mother was a food scientist whose career revolved around genetic modification of corn. From her, I learned a bit more about why GMOs are so widely used, despite having a controversial reputation. GMOs are key in aiding us in providing enough food to feed our exponentially growing population. For example, many GMOs are designed solely to be insect-resistant (FDA). This means farmers can use less pesticides. While many people do have concerns about the health impacts of GMOs, there have been very few, if any, proven cases of GMOs negatively impacting health. On the other hand, pesticides have been widely proven to be very negative for human health. Of course, GMOs still have their downsides, and it is far from a perfect system. Unfortunately I could not actually open the links to the videos “Wheat GMO,” and I do not have Netflix so I could not open “Cooked: Air.” I don’t know precisely what these were referencing, though from other blogs from past years I believe they generally mentioned that genetic modification was responsible for lowering nutritional content. However, these are not GMOs. They are genetically edited through intensive, human-led breeding efforts. However, they are not genetically modified organisms; a GMO wheat has not yet been introduced to the market in the US, from what I can tell from a surface-level dive into GMO wheat research. I think it can be problematic to conflate these two issues, as GMOs certainly have their own problems, but the issues that stem from nutritional deficiencies in wheat are due to many centuries of selective reproduction.

Onto a completely different topic: it was also super interesting to see the art display in the second half of class. I enjoyed seeing the stained art from SCOBY, and I thought it was really cool to see how much thought and effort went into all the work, especially the sound!

Bread ingredient list:


NY Times (Green Burial): https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/22/smarter-living/green-funeral-burial-environment.html

FDA (GMOs): https://www.fda.gov/food/agricultural-biotechnology/how-gmo-crops-impact-our-world

“What’s Wrong With Modern Wheat”: https://www.greenamerica.org/gmos-industrial-agriculture/stop-ge-wheat/whats-wrong-modern-wheat

GMO Image: https://visual.ly/community/Infographics/science/gmo-genetically-modified-organism