Breaking it Down
More than just fungi
A Mohawk College research project is studying the decomposition power of fungi, with the hopes of finding a solution for the masses of coffee cups piling up in landfills.
Fungi are natural decomposers of polymers found in wood, paper and textiles. They can consume a fallen tree in five or six years, for instance. The fungi’s mycelium, which are tiny, cotton-like roots, degrade material as they grow through it. The fruit of the mycelium is mushrooms.
“We can exploit this ability of the fungus. We have to figure out the process to maximize the efficiency of the degradation,” says Biotechnology Professor Dr. Ethan Paschos, who is growing fungi and using shredded paper cups, which take 500 to 1,000 years to decompose in a landfill, as a food source.
The fungi can consume roughly 10 litres of material and transform it into about half a litre of biomass within 4 months, says Dr. Paschos.
Biotechnology student Michael Davidson worked in Paschos’s lab through Mohawk’s Campus Student Employment Program (CSEP) before graduating in April 2018. Davidson developed, tested and set up experiments, all while being paid.
“This was a great opportunity to gain relevant work experience,” said Davidson, who now works as a lab technologist with the Chemistry, Environmental and Biotechnology department.
“We were finding solutions. I got to apply my skills in a creative way.”
Bhoomin Patel, a fourth-semester Biotechnology student, aims to use his CSEP experience in Paschos’s lab to gain Canadian experience. He wants to land employment in a food lab.
“Choosing Mohawk is one of the greatest achievements for me.”