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Fireproofing Your Home with Fungi?

October 15, 2023

The Water Cycle Is Out of Balance

Earth’s water cycle, as we have known it, is spinning out of balance as a result of climate change and human activities, threatening long-term water security.  Last week, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) released a report, The State of Global Water Resources 2022, saying that at one extreme, there were much heavier precipitation events and flooding, and that at the opposite extreme there was more evaporation, drying soils, and intense droughts. It noted that the overwhelming majority of disasters are water related.

Pakistan floods 2022   |  Credit: Julien Harneis/Creative Commons

On one side of the cycle, more than half of the world’s reservoirs and catchment areas (where water is collected) were drier than normal, as in the Mississippi River basin in the United States. Drought also impacted the Horn of Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and South America. On the other end of the water cycle, the report said that melting snow, ice, and glaciers, as well as increased flooding threaten long-term water security for many millions of people. Last year, one-third of Pakistan was flooded, killing more than 1,700 people and displacing eight million. The head of the WMO, Petteri Taalas, said in a statement that glaciers and ice cover are disappearing before our eyes.

The report stressed that we know too little about the world’s freshwater resources, and it is impossible to manage what is not measured. The agency noted that monitoring water, including across national borders, is at the heart of its efforts, yet many countries that suffered flooding and droughts last year did not have accurate information to make timely decisions.

The UN said recently that, at present, about four billion people experience severe water scarcity for at least one month each year, a number expected to increase to more than five billion by mid-century.

Hydrogen Hubs Could Eliminate Emissions Equal to Millions of Gas Cars

To help meet the president’s climate and energy goals, last week the Biden administration announced plans to jumpstart an entire industry by creating seven regional hubs to make and use hydrogen as a clean burning fuel. Up to $7 billion will be awarded amongst the hubs, which will comprise networks of businesses, local governments, labor, and researchers to collaborate on producing and using low-emission hydrogen.

Hydrogen Innovation Test Truck  |  Credit: MarcelX42/Creative Commons

The benefit of hydrogen is that it could be burned to power ships, airplanes, trucks, and even help produce fertilizers, steel, and cement, and it emits only water without releasing any global warming greenhouse gases.  Currently, however, as the New York Times reports, firms usually extract hydrogen from natural gas through a process that releases large amounts of carbon dioxide.  Three of the hubs announced by Biden are intending to produce some hydrogen by this method.

However, so-called “green hydrogen” can be produced by using solar- or wind-generated electricity without any of those emissions, but right now it’s at least twice as expensive as using natural gas. According to the Department of Energy, green hydrogen only accounts for around one percent of the annual U.S. supply, but it could be increased to produce ten million tons annually in about six years.

The White House said that the awards will eliminate 25 million metric tons of CO2 emissions from end-users each year—the equivalent of those released from 5.5 million gas-fueled cars.

Fireproofing Walls with Fungi

As climate change heats the planet and causes drought, the risk of wildfires increases. To protect homes and buildings, many structures incorporate flame retardant materials, which are effective but can contain toxic chemicals that are carcinogenic or can impair neurological function.

Compressed mycelium sheets  |  Credit: Nattanan (Becky) Chulikavit, RMIT

However, researchers at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) in Australia have made a material that could be a safer and more sustainable alternative, and it’s made from…mushrooms. More specifically, the fungi’s network of roots called mycelium that’s mostly composed of chitin, the same stuff crab shells and insect exoskeletons are made of. The team developed a method to produce thin sheets of mycelium that can be layered together in a mat, which, unlike current fireproofing materials, only releases water and carbon dioxide when it burns.

The outside of the composite keeps a fire from spreading because it breaks down into a residue similar to charcoal that buffers underlying layers from igniting. They say the mycelium sheets could be used as a part of insulation or attached to surfaces like wallpaper to protect buildings. Better still, the material could be derived from waste from the mushroom industry. And, they say, because mycelium is natural, it’s compostable, so when it reaches the end of its life, you can just chuck it in the garden.

The study was published this summer in the journal Polymer Degradation and Stability.

Omicron Variants Effectively Inactivated by Green, Black, and Matcha Tea

COVID-19 continues to be a major cause of serious respiratory illnesses in the U.S., with more than 200,000 deaths reported since January 2022. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending vaccination as the most effective way to protect yourself from severe illness this fall and winter. And, according to new research published in the Journal Scientific Reports, you might want to toss in some cups of tea. A study from Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine in Japan found that catechins—the biologically active compounds found in tea—can effectively inactivate some Omicron subvariants of the virus.

Credit: Photo and Share/Creative Commons

According to, the researchers had previously found that compounds in tea stopped older strains of COVID-19 by binding to their spike proteins to prevent them from entering cells. Now, with Omicron subvariants circulating most widely, they found the changes in the virus have actually made tea even better at fighting infection.

The study involved seven healthy volunteers who were given candy made from Matcha, black, and green tea, as well as a placebo, and found the subvariants they tested were efficiently neutralized for ten seconds. Because the virus is transmitted through saliva scattered by speaking, sneezing, and coughing, the researchers wanted to explore how foods and food ingredients could be weaponized, so to speak, to reduce the viral load in the oral cavity and in the gastrointestinal tract and to prevent its spread.

Not all of the numerous Omicron subvariants were inactivated, but COVID prevention aside, green tea is good for you! It’s chock full of benefits from reducing the risk of certain cancers to boosting heart health.