We use polyurethane to make just about everything — garden hoses, furniture, the entirety of my local 99-cent store. It’s easy to produce, durable, and dirt cheap. What it isn’t is recyclable — there isn’t a single natural process that breaks it down. That is until a newly-discovered Amazonian fungus takes a bite.
Pestalotiopsis microspora (not shown) is a resident of the Ecuadorian rainforest and was discovered by a group of student researchers led by molecular biochemistry professor Scott Strobel as part of Yale’s annual Rainforest Expedition and Laboratory. It’s the first fungus species to be able to survive exclusively on polyurethane and, more importantly, able to do so in anaerobic conditions — the same conditions found in the bottom of landfills. This makes the fungus a prime candidate for bioremediation projects that could finally provide an alternative to just burying the plastic and hoping for the best.
In domestic relationships, one of the quickest ways to butter up your partner is by taking out the trash. In business, removing festering piles of waste also makes you the sort of person who’s gets missed when you’re not around.
In 2009, Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez were recent graduates of the University of California at Berkeley who had both been offered positions in consulting and investment banking. Yet both were stuck on an idea they came across in their business ethics class: Gourmet mushrooms grow and flourish in recycled coffee grounds; thus, waste from one industry could be fertile ground for another. Trash, if not treasure, could be a sustainable and cost-free raw material.
The two set to experimenting with growing mushrooms in coffee grounds in the basement of Velez’s fraternity. They managed one crop in an old paint bucket and immediately charged out to their local Whole Foods, where they showed their harvest to the first person they saw in the produce department: “Hey, look, we grew these mushrooms.”
The two were sent from department to department by managers who were curious—and more than a little bemused—by the two college kids and their bucket of mushrooms. Two weeks later, they received a call from the regional produce manager for Northern California Whole Foods stores. They were told that if they could figure out how to do it on a larger scale, “we can blow this up in stores.”
So Arora and Velez turned down their corporate job offers and, learning from YouTube videos, trained themselves as urban mushroom farmers. “We both believe to our core that business doesn’t have to be something where for-profit is bad and nonprofit is good,” Arora says. “It’s an awesome tool, if leveraged correctly, to really make a quick difference.”
What started as a small-scale farm supplying local restaurants and a few groceries expanded to include the mushroom kits, which now sell at 1,000 retail centers nationally. Since its founding, Back To The Roots has repurposed 1 million pounds of coffee grounds. After one year, the company had revenue of a quarter-million dollars; last year, it increased that number to $1.4 million. The company forecasts $5 million in revenue this year.
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“By trying to preserve the body we poison the living.”
A provoking confrontation of cultural death denial, artist Jae Rhim Lee is designing a funeral outfit to speed her own decomposition.
Why We Need To Start Taking Magic Mushrooms Seriously
Psilocybin. It’s the psychoactive substance in those “sacred mushrooms” that causes hallucinations and other novel mental experiences. The effects of those mushrooms have been explored and appreciated by members of the ancient Capsian culture in North Africa, Aztec shamans, and modern college students. But they’re now the subject of serious study by scientists.
A team from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine recently published results from a roughly year-long experiment. The researchers worked with 18 volunteers who were given pure psilocybin to measure how it affected people and how different dosages changed the experience. The subjects were screened for psychological health and given the drug in a pleasant environment, after preparatory guidance. They even had a soundtrack consisting of “classical and world music chosen to complement the arc of the psilocybin action, from onset, through the peak of the effects, and subsiding back to baseline.”
The results? At high dosages people occasionally experienced fear, anxiety, or delusions. But the negative effects of those “bad trips” were easily mitigated by the reassuring researchers and didn’t outlast the session. At more moderate doses, the results were almost unambiguously positive. Moreover, people didn’t just appreciate the experience as fun; they found it spiritually meaningful, with lasting benefits.
As a piece on Newswise explains:
Looking back over a year later, most of the experiment’s 18 volunteers (94 percent) rated a psilocybin session as among the top five most or as the topmost spiritually significant experience of his or her life. […] Most volunteers (89 percent) also reported positive changes in their behaviors, and those reports were corroborated by family members or others, the researchers say. The behavior changes most frequently cited were improved relationships with family and others, increased physical and psychological self-care, and increased devotion to spiritual practice.
Reading the volunteers’ first-hand reports of how the experiences affected them is a testament to their value. “More and more, sensuality and compassion and gratitude continue to unfold around me.” “I try to judge less and forgive more.” “I feel that I relate better in my marriage. There is more empathy.” “I need less food to make me full. My alcohol use has diminished dramatically.”
I’m not saying we should all start doing mushrooms. These were carefully measured doses, taken in a setting designed to be comfortable and supportive. There are certainly situations in which it would be dangerous or irresponsible to take psilocybin.
But these results illustrate the artificial dichotomy between medicine and recreational drugs in America. Stateside, Prozac is regarded as medicine, but psilocybin is a schedule 1 controlled substance like heroin. Americans assume that if some substance is made by nature instead of Eli Lilly, it can’t be medicine. But if psilocybin has true psychiatric and emotional benefits, what’s the difference? Sure, you can have a bad experience with psilocibin, but antidepressents like Prozac have been linked to suicidal thoughts, and it’s hard to imagine a worse side effect than that. We also think that if a drug is used for fun, there must be something bad about it. But Vicodin and OxyContin are all still on the market. There are plenty of FDA-approved drugs that get used (and abused) recreationally.
We should aim to evaluate any drug objectively, whether it’s made by an enormous pharmaceutical company or grows in the forest. If an engineered antidepressant generated reports like those from the volunteers in this study, it would be regarded as a breakthrough in psychiatric medicine.
Bill Hicks (via thecosmonaut)
I <3 this man.