let’s start with the basics. what is mycology?Some call it a mega-science, a long-overlooked biological study of fungus, including their genetic properties, usefulness to humans, and toxicity. Mycology is an underexplored branch of botanical sciences with very few study options for those who’d like to learn about it.
Though the path to becoming a mycologist is lightly trodden, those who have chosen this career do so with various focuses ranging from academic research to applied agriculture. Mushrooms remain mysterious to many scientists, and the extent of their power and benefit to humans is still being discovered.
Only in the past few decades have scientists been diving deep into studies of fungi and their intricacies, relatively recently learning about their genetic makeup and the fact that they are evolutionarily more similar to animals than plants. Though the modern study of mycology is relatively new, the use of mushrooms is not. There is centuries-old documentation of mushrooms’ healing and medicinal powers in China and the Middle East.
why has mycology largely been ignored?
Mycologist, Merlin Sheldrake, is devoted to changing the common conception of mycology from grimy to glamorous and renewing the scientific community’s interest in these fascinating organisms. Sheldrake believes there are two reasons mycology has been ignored:
- The first is technology; advancements have only recently enabled scientists to understand the fungus world’s vastness and how integral they are to life on earth.
- The second roadblock is what Sheldrake calls a historically “entrenched disciplinary bias.” He explains, “Fungi weren’t seen as their own kingdom of life until the 60s. Mycologists were put in a corner of the plant sciences department rather than in their own fungal sciences department. This had a huge impact – if you’re not training researchers, it will be neglected.”
the future of mycology.
Although there aren’t many mycologists, Lynne Boddy, president of the British Mycological Society, is hopeful for the future of the field. The mushroom industry is growing, especially in the areas of green energy and pharmaceuticals. Mycologists have discovered around 70,000 species of fungus and now estimate there are over 1.5 million species. The future of mycology is bright.
will mushrooms change the world?
"Mushrooms have a lot of potential for anti-cancer drugs or bioremediation of pollution-ridden areas," says mycologist John Collie, a research and development manager at Monaghan Mushrooms.
With the recent move toward legalization, the psychedelic mushroom’s path forward may be smoother than once predicted. Because fungi have been shown to help with treatment-resistant depression and have many other medicinal benefits, investors in the know are showing interest, and mycologists will likely be in demand. Mycology is a rapidly advancing field and has areas of development that could quite literally change the world.