Microbiologists and two designers have come up with a device dubbed the Fungi Mutarium, which is capable of turning biodegradable plastic into -- hold your breath -- edible mushrooms!
The Fungi Mutarium is the brainchild of Livin, an Austrian design studio, and Utrecht University, which aimed to create a device that could break down man-made trash and at the same time grow tasty edibles.
The experiment is a prototype that deploys fungi to break down plastic and grow edible fungal biomass or mushrooms. The device uses cups that are made of agar, which is an algae-based gelatin. The cups hold the fungus, which is used to digest the plastic which, in turn, has been sterilized by dousing it in UV light. Once the plastic has been digested, the agar cups and the content inside it become digestible. The process usually takes several months for the fungi to decompose all the plastic.
With the device, the team aimed to create a single solution that would address a host of issues ranging from pollution to food waste.
"We were both really inspired about the idea that something digests plastic but then still creates edible biomass," said Katharina Unger, who is one of the designers.
Unger also reveals that the harvested pods have a mild taste; the fungi that is used is from the root of two of the most popular mushrooms around: oyster and split gill.
"It starts off being very neutral, but it can also get a bit nutty and spicy in taste. It really depends on the strain, actually," the research found.
However, the team asserts that the "neutral" taste is what makes the pods versatile in nature.
The Fungi Mutarium faces a few hurdles before it can make its way to consumers. A major drawback is that it takes several months for the plastic to break down. The product is still in its research phase and while the Fungi Mutarium has mass usage potential, it seems there is room for improvement. Unger, however, is optimistic.
"We know that there's potential to speed up this process simply by optimizing the processes around it: temperature, humidity, the perfect microclimate for this fungi to colonize the plastic material," says Unger.
The team is currently looking for more funding so that they can continue to work on improving the Fungi Mutarium.