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Fungal mycelium
Microscopic view of a mycelium.  This image covers a one-millimeter square.
Another microscopic view of a mycelium.  Numbered ticks are 230 µm apart.
Oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) growing on coffee grounds
Mycelium as seen under a log

Mycelium is the vegetative part of a fungus, consisting of a mass of branching, thread-like hyphae. The mass of hyphae is sometimes called shiro, especially within the fairy ring fungi. Fungal colonies composed of mycelium are found in and on soil and many other substrates. A typical single spore germinates into a homokaryotic mycelium, which cannot reproduce sexually; when two compatible homokaryotic mycelia join and form a dikaryotic mycelium; that mycelium may form fruiting bodies such as mushrooms. A mycelium may be minute, forming a colony that is too small to see, or it may be extensive:

Is this the largest organism in the world? This 2,400-acre (9.7 km2) site in eastern Oregon had a contiguous growth of mycelium before logging roads cut through it. Estimated at 1,665 football fields in size and 2,200 years old, this one fungus has killed the forest above it several times over, and in so doing has built deeper soil layers that allow the growth of ever-larger stands of trees. Mushroom-forming forest fungi are unique in that their mycelial mats can achieve such massive proportions.

Through the mycelium, a fungus absorbs nutrients from its environment. It does this in a two-stage process. First, the hyphae secrete enzymes onto or into the food source, which break down biological polymers into smaller units such as monomers. These monomers are then absorbed into the mycelium by facilitated diffusion and active transport.

Mycelium is vital in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems for their role in the decomposition of plant material. They contribute to the organic fraction of soil, and their growth releases carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere (see carbon cycle). Ectomycorrhizal extramatrical mycelium, as well as the mycelium of Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi increase the efficiency of water and nutrient absorption of most plants and confers resistance to some plant pathogens. Mycelium is an important food source for many soil invertebrates.

"Mycelium", like "fungus", can be considered a mass noun, a word that can be either singular or plural. The term "mycelia", though, like "fungi", is often used as the preferred plural form.

Sclerotia are compact or hard masses of mycelium.


One of the primary roles of fungi in an ecosystem is to decompose organic compounds. Petroleum products and some pesticides (typical soil contaminants) are organic molecules (i.e. they are built on a carbon structure), and thereby present a potential carbon source for fungi. Hence, fungi have the potential to eradicate such pollutants from their environment; unless the chemicals prove toxic to the fungus. This biological degradation is a process known as bioremediation.

Mycelial mats have been suggested (see Paul Stamets) as having potential as biological filters, removing chemicals and microorganisms from soil and water. The use of fungal mycelium to accomplish this has been termed mycofiltration.

Knowledge of the relationship between mycorrhizal fungi and plants suggests new ways to improve crop yields.

When spread on logging roads, mycelium can act as a binder, holding new soil in place and preventing washouts until woody plants can be established.

Since 2007, a company called Ecovative Design has been developing alternatives to polystyrene and plastic packaging by growing mycelium in agricultural waste. The two ingredients are mixed together and placed into a mold for 3–5 days to grow into a durable material. Depending on the strain of mycelium used, they make many different varieties of the material including water absorbent, flame retardant, and dielectric.[2]

Fungi are essential for converting biomass into compost, as they decompose feedstock components such as lignin, which many other composting microorganisms cannot.[3] Turning a backyard compost pile will commonly expose visible networks of mycelia that have formed on the decaying organic material within. Compost is an essential soil amendment and fertilizer for organic farming and gardening. Composting can divert a substantial fraction of municipal solid waste from landfill.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Stamets, Paul. Mycelium Running, Ten Speed Press, U.S.A. 2005 (p. 45, caption to figure 60)
  2. ^ Kile, Meredith (September 13, 2013). "How to replace foam and plastic packaging with mushroom experiments". Al Jazeera America. 
  3. ^ "Composting - Compost Microorganisms". Cornell University. Retrieved 17 April 2014. 
  4. ^ Epstein, Eliot (2011). Industrial Composting: Environmental Engineering and Facilities Management. CRC Press. ISBN 143984531X. 

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mycelium — Please support Wikipedia.
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2012 news items


Sat, 05 Sep 2015 02:00:00 -0700

Jake Winiski performs quality control in a cleanroom inspecting a tray of mycelium and other raw materials that will age to become an eco-friendly packaging material at Ecovative Design in Green Island, N.Y., on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012. (AP Photo/Mike ...

Indian Country Today Media Network

Indian Country Today Media Network
Fri, 04 Sep 2015 07:26:15 -0700

“Mushrooms come from a main plant (mycelium) that grows underground,” Warnecke said. “The mushroom is the fruiting body of that plant that regenerates with a single cell spore, so each mushroom has hundreds of thousands of spores that are sent out to ...

Cochrane Times

Cochrane Times
Fri, 04 Sep 2015 11:45:00 -0700

In this understory city are fungi and mushroom species sending unseen fruiting bodies out of webs and tangles of mycelium webs stretching for miles underground. Some will be spatrophic, meaning they're forever and efficiently breaking down organic ...


Sun, 30 Aug 2015 20:56:15 -0700

“We are the first in the world to 3D-print living mycelium, using this infinite natural source of organisms as living glue for binding organic waste. Once it's full-grown and dried, it turns into a structural, stable and renewable material. Combined ...

Golf Course Industry Magazine

Golf Course Industry Magazine
Mon, 31 Aug 2015 12:30:00 -0700

Anthracnose forms no characteristic leaf lesions or mycelium, unlike many other foliar diseases. Thus, symptoms can be confused with other diseases, especially the basal rot form. It is important to have microscopic confirmation by a qualified turf ...

Sonoma County Gazette

Sonoma County Gazette
Thu, 03 Sep 2015 17:00:00 -0700

... developed a new marketplace in fine craft and design for artists and families that need their work, Lomasney is growing an urn from low-value ground agricultural waste mixed with mycelium (the binding agent) that is home-compostable within 60 days.
Sat, 29 Aug 2015 21:52:30 -0700

It can spread from plant to plant by white thread-like growths (mycelium) that first infect the base of the stem, and then spread up the stem or out from its base in fan-shaped patterns. Fruiting bodies, called “sclerotia,” also form in the mycelium ...

CosmeticsDesign.com USA

CosmeticsDesign.com USA
Thu, 03 Sep 2015 07:48:45 -0700

Sherr highlights material made from mushrooms as an example: “Ecovative, a company whose expertise is in compostable bioplastics based on mycelium, or mushrooms, offers an alternative to polystyrene. Fungal organisms can be grown into the shape of a ...

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