Using Mushroom Waste to Clean Up Tiny Pollutants

Greg Howard
20th April, 2024

Using Mushroom Waste to Clean Up Tiny Pollutants

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • Study at Utrecht University found mushroom waste can reduce water pollutants by 10-90%
  • Mushroom "tea" also cut down pollutants, though less effectively, by up to 26%
  • The process works through natural enzymes and chemical reactions, not just physical absorption
In recent years, the presence of organic micropollutants (OMPs) in water has become a significant environmental concern. These substances, often found in pharmaceuticals, personal care products, and various industrial chemicals, persist in the environment and can harm aquatic life and potentially affect human health. Traditional water treatment methods sometimes struggle to effectively remove these contaminants, which has led researchers to explore alternative, sustainable solutions. A study conducted by scientists at Utrecht University[1] has investigated a novel approach to this problem using spent mushroom substrate (SMS) from the white button mushroom (Agaricus bisporus) and a water extract made from this material, commonly referred to as "mushroom tea." Their research has shown promising results in the removal of various OMPs from contaminated water. Spent mushroom substrate is the leftover material after mushrooms have been harvested. This substance is rich in organic matter and has been shown to possess properties that can help break down pollutants. Previous studies have demonstrated that Agaricus bisporus has a complex oxidative enzymatic machinery that can degrade tough organic substrates[2], suggesting that SMS could be effective in tackling OMPs. Additionally, the spent substrate from mushroom farming has already been used in environmental remediation, such as improving soil quality and removing heavy metals from water[3][4]. In the Utrecht University study, the researchers tested the ability of SMS and its tea to remove a range of OMPs, including artificial sweeteners like acesulfame K, pharmaceuticals such as carbamazepine, and other common contaminants like caffeine and DEET. They found that the SMS could remove between 10% and 90% of these pollutants within a week. The tea extract, while less effective, still managed to eliminate up to 26% of certain OMPs. Interestingly, the physical sorption of pollutants to SMS particles was relatively low, indicating that other mechanisms were at play in the removal process. The researchers discovered that both enzymatic activities inherent in the SMS and non-enzymatic reactions contributed to the breakdown of OMPs. The mushroom tea contained trace amounts of metals like copper, manganese, and iron, as well as hydrogen peroxide, which are known to catalyze the Fenton reaction—a process that generates hydroxyl radicals capable of degrading organic compounds. Heat treatment of the SMS reduced its effectiveness in removing most OMPs, except for carbamazepine, which was still eliminated at a high rate. This suggests that the enzymes responsible for breaking down the pollutants are sensitive to heat, which is consistent with previous understandings of enzymatic reactions. However, the heat-treated tea still retained some ability to remove OMPs, hinting at the presence of heat-stable non-enzymatic activities. The study's findings are significant because they demonstrate that a waste product from mushroom cultivation can be repurposed to address the pressing issue of water pollution by OMPs. This aligns with earlier research that highlighted the environmental persistence of low and no calorie sweeteners like acesulfame potassium and the need for effective methods to remove such substances from water[5]. Moreover, the study offers a sustainable, low-cost alternative to conventional water treatment technologies, potentially providing a dual benefit of waste reduction and environmental protection. In summary, the Utrecht University research has uncovered the potential of spent mushroom substrate and its extract to serve as an eco-friendly solution for purifying water contaminated with a variety of organic micropollutants. By harnessing the natural enzymatic power of mushrooms and the chemical reactions they can induce, this method could be an innovative step towards cleaner waterways and a healthier environment.



Main Study

1) Enzymatic and non-enzymatic removal of organic micropollutants with spent mushroom substrate of Agaricus bisporus.

Published 19th April, 2024

Journal: Applied microbiology and biotechnology

Issue: Vol 108, Issue 1, Apr 2024

Related Studies

2) A comparative genomic analysis of the oxidative enzymes potentially involved in lignin degradation by Agaricus bisporus.

3) Implications of polluted soil biostimulation and bioaugmentation with spent mushroom substrate (Agaricus bisporus) on the microbial community and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons biodegradation.

4) Purification of polluted water with spent mushroom (Agaricus bisporus) substrate: from agricultural waste to biosorbent of phenanthrene, Cd and Pb.

5) A Review of the Environmental Fate and Effects of Acesulfame-Potassium.

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