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MycoCube: Decontaminating Fragile Ecosystems Using Fungal Enzymes

We are living in an era of profound human influence on nature. Chemical spills, waste disposal and even the seemingly harmless discarding of personal care products down our household drains all have a significant influence on our Earth’s delicate ecosystems. We need large-scale, quick-acting and ecologically sound bioremediation techniques to decontaminate these waste streams. MycoMine’s MycoCube is a portable treatment plant that naturally degrades toxic compounds using fungal enzymes, leaving behind fungal biomass. In small quantities this biomass can be used as compost or in the creation of sustainable building materials. (1) In larger quantities, the biomass can be used as pellets for biofuel production. (2)



Generally, bioremediation techniques use biological organisms such as microbes to take toxic substances and either break them down to be less toxic or remove toxic compounds within them. These techniques can either be deployed in situ (on-site) or ex-situ (off-site) with the latter being more costly in time and resources. However current bioremediation practices often produce secondary pollutants, further damaging fragile ecosystems. (1)


Mycoremediation is a type of bioremediation that employs fungal enzymes which have the capacity to degrade a multitude of toxic products. “Fungi have been shown to play a significant role in bioremediation of [a] variety of pollutants such as POPs [Persistent Organic Pollutants], textile dyes, petroleum hydrocarbons, pulp and paper industry effluents, leather tanning effluents, PAHs [Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons], pesticides [and] PPCPs [Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products].” (3)  Mycoremediation is often accomplished with fungi native to the environment providing an eco-friendly solution that can aid in an ecosystem’s restoration. It also allows for its solutions to be grown on-site thereby limiting the multiple costs of transportation such as time, resources and greenhouse gas emissions.



Mycomine’s MycoCube is an in situ, portable mycoremediation plant that can be reused and customized to a site’s needs. MycoCube decomposes hydrocarbons, turning them into a non-toxic fungal biomass. The biomass can then be composted, used to create sustainable materials or made into pellets for biofuel production, depending on the size accumulated. MycoCube was tested at Ytterby Mine in Sweden as a case study.


Ytterby Mine is well-known for the six rare earth elements that were discovered there during the 18th century: yttrium, ytterbium, terbium, erbium, holmium and scandium. (4). Ytterby started mining quartz in the 1600’s and then mined feldspar until it was shut down in 1933. In 1953 it was renovated and reopened to store jet fuel and then diesel fuel until the 1990’s. Since its closure there have been multiple cleaning efforts employed, but significant amounts of fuel residues remained in the mine cavern. (1)


MycoCube was installed in Ytterby Mine for a 6-month test run starting in the winter of 2022. A batch system was instituted testing five 250-500 L batches of contaminated water for 4-6 week periods. This allowed for adjustments to the process and comparisons of degradation percentages within each batch. MycoCube exceeded expectations, degrading almost 100% of the hydrocarbons in each cycle. “MycoMine will continue to remediate Ytterby Mine and restore the site to its previous ecological balance so it can be opened as a centre to the public”. (1)


MycoMine has three ongoing studies for pilot projects including a project with an oil refinery that began in the winter of 2023 and a project with a municipality to investigate the remediation of soils. They recently received funding to work on per- and polyfluorinated substances (PFAs) also known as forever chemicals. There are over 9000 humanmade PFAs and most of them are in our water supply. PFAs get their name from their carbon-fluorine bonds which are some of the strongest chemical bonds. Fungi can break these bonds. (5)



MycoMine started in 2021 and has already won multiple awards for their innovative MycoCube.  In 2022 they won the SKAPA innovation award. In 2023 they won the Swedish Mining Innovation award and tied for first place as the Top Startup in the inaugural Future is Fungi award. 


We need innovators such as MycoMine given the vastness of humankind’s destructive behaviors. Here we see another solution where fungi hold the keys to an ecologically sound and valuable tool that science will continue to explore, so that we may heal our planet. As the Co-Founder and CSO of MycoMine Oona Snoeyenbos-West says, “I like to think of them as the Swiss Army Knives of biology.” (5) And how fitting that is. 


References:


  1. Mycomine. www.mycomine.se/product. Accessed 2 January 2024.

  2. Deshmukh R, Khardenavis AA, Purohit HJ. Diverse Metabolic Capacities of Fungi for Bioremediation. Indian J Microbiol. 2016 Sep;56(1):247-64. doi: 10.1007/s12088-016-0584-6. Epub 2016 Apr 23. PMID: 27407289; PMCID: PMC4920763. Accessed 2 January 2024.

  3. Nilsson, S. The Swedish Oil Weapon: Storage of fuel in Sweden during the Cold War – Energy security and environmentally related aspects (Dissertation). 2022. p.43. https://urn.kb.se/resolve?urn=urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-469139. Accessed 4 January 2024.

  4. Little, Ryan Grant, host. “The founder and winners of the 1st annual Future is Fungi Award with Susanne Glørsen & co.” Another ClimateTech Podcast. 4 December 2023. Accessed 4 January 2024.


Image credits: MycoMine


 

Contributing Author: April Kissinger


April is a fungi fanatic that has held a number of diverse STEM positions over the past 12 years. She is currently devoting her time to studying our fungal friends, as she feels the future begins with "Myco" !

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