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Mushrooms might save the world—if they don't kill us first


[Release date]2018-05-12
[Core hints]The tents were disappearing. The uniforms were, too. But the supplies didnt vanish all at once. It was World War II and
The tents were disappearing. The uniforms were, too. But the supplies didn’t vanish all at once. It was World War II and enemies were everywhere, but nothing was swiped or stolen from the U.S. campsite on the Solomon Islands.
 
Rather, everything in that slice of the South Pacific seemed to be disintegrating—and fast. It was as though some invisible critter had eaten its way through the military encampment and the shirts on their service members’ backs. The culprit, the Army would soon discover, was a hungry fungus, which would be named Trichoderma reesei. But it would be better known by its military alias, QM6a.
 
While the fungus initially gave the army a run for its money, today QM6a is prized by industry, the U.S. military included. Its ability to naturally degrade cellulose meant T. reesei caused headaches for the Solomon Islands campaign, as it munched through American cotton, wood pulp, and paper. But today it’s a primary source of cellulase, which is used to process coffee beans, transform biomass into biofuels, and more.
 
QM6a is far from the only fungal terror in recent human history. But it’s not the only fungi to be put to use by humans, either. Today, the enzyme industry, which is in large part based on items isolated from fungi, is worth more than $3 billion. By 2024, market analysts predict it will hit $9.5 billion.
 
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