If you've got 18 minutes and want to either have your mind blown or your skepticism aroused or both, check out mycologist Paul Stamets at the TED conference:
I saw this same show with the same argument–mushrooms will save the world–this week at Skidmore College, where Stamets gave the distinguished scientist lecture. It's also available in a gorgeously produced book called Mycelium Running and kudos to you, Ten Speed Press, for the best-looking paperback I've seen in years.
Stamets has proven that mushrooms are the great cleansers of the natural world, able to scrub e.coli from running water, kill the dreaded H5N1 flu virus, and rapidly clean up oil spills by metabolizing the hydrocarbons.
All this, I totally buy. Mushrooms are amazing. Soil, where fungi and bacteria work together to turn decay into life, is amazing. The big king bolete my son found last year, which perfumed an entire beef stew, was amazing.
Stamets, on the other had, was a little more P.T. Barnum than I'd expected. He annoyed me with the irrelevant attention he called to his striking younger wife, who appears in many of his slides. Stamets is an independent scientist, with a private lab that's funded by a tacky catalog business called Fungi Perfecti, and he seems to be patenting the bejesus out of fungi-related processes and products.
Of course, check out this post by scientist Steve Quake this week in the New York Times about the watering-down process involved in working at a university and seeking grants. What do I know? Maybe renegade science funded by sets of mushroom-themed placemats is exactly what the world needs.