How growing mushrooms can help combat climate change

A 'game-changing' trial has launched which will see trees planted with fungi that produce carbon-capturing mushrooms.

A project led by University of Stirling scientists aims to develop a new carbon negative food source in the form of mushrooms.

If the trial is successful, it could be replicated worldwide, creating thousands of jobs and a food source that can contribute to tackling climate change.   

All major food production in the UK currently emits greenhouse gases, contributing to the country’s carbon footprint. 

The UK Government wants to establish new food sources which deliver against Net Zero targets and address an over-reliance on imports.  

Research by experts at the University of Stirling previously found planting fungi with trees to create protein-rich mushrooms can sequester up to 12.8 tonnes of carbon per hectare annually.

The crop, which can be consumed fresh or processed into meat-alternative products, has the potential to produce a nutritious food source for nearly 19 million people a year, globally.  

Now, the University of Stirling and truffle producers Mycorrhizal Systems Ltd have begun a two-year trial on Bute which will see researchers cover the root system of new trees with fungi that produce edible mushrooms.

A team led by Honorary Professor Paul Thomas will then assess the environmental benefits and wider economic impact.

He said: “This is a game-changing idea which, if done at scale, will increase domestic food production, incentivise tree planting and help mitigate the impact of climate change.   

“By tackling land-use conflict and creating a calorific output from land that would otherwise not produce food, and at scale, the project outcomes will positively contribute to such priorities and create a net increase in UK food production of up to 1,000 tonnes for each 1,000 hectares of afforestation incorporated into the project.”  

Professor Alistair Jump, Dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences, who co-authored the research and will partner on the initiative, said: “Research suggests a carbon sequestration rate of up to 406kg for every kg of protein produced whilst also aiding biodiversity and conservational goals.   

“This sequestration is in stark contrast to every other major food production system which results in an emission during production.”  

If the trial is successful a subsequent rollout could create hundreds of jobs in the UK and thousands worldwide.   

Professor Jump said: “Much of the work will be distributed in rural areas, supporting a positive socio-economic impact through job creation and infrastructure development.   

“The innovation will also have a direct annual contribution to the UK economy and further economic benefits arise through the distribution chain.”   

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