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10 Things to Know About… Fungi

Fungi are an ancient form of life, existing long before the first amphibians, reptiles or mammals roamed the planet. It is estimated that there are well over 1 million species of fungi worldwide but only around 150,000 have been described to date. Some fungi can be poisonous and destroy trees, others can be very healthy to eat or can help plants absorb nutrients.

10 Things to Know About… Fungi
Michael Gaffney and Helen Grogan, Teagasc; presenter Kathriona Devereux; and Eoghan Corbett, Teagasc on tonight’s episode of 10 Things to Know About… Fungi.

10 Things to Know About… Fungi

Despite several mass extinction events, fungi are the one form of life that always survive, and in this episode, we reveal what ancient fungi can tell us about historical climate events and how studying them might help us predict what will happen in our planet’s future due to climate change.

It may surprise you that mushrooms are Ireland’s most successful horticultural crop, supplying half of the mushrooms eaten in the UK. Traditionally, mushrooms are grown in a pasteurised substrate with a layer of peat on top, but with the global effort to stop using peats and restore bogs, we meet the researchers who are racing to find growing alternatives.

Helen Grogan, a researcher in mushroom science at Teagasc explains on tonight’s episode: “Mushrooms are the ultimate recyclers of organic matter. In the environment, mushrooms break down dead wood and leaf litter and recycle the nutrients; otherwise, we would be covered in a thick layer of dead vegetation”. The mushroom industry mimics this natural process by growing mushrooms in a straw-based substrate with a layer of peat on top. The peat layer is essential and has very important properties that ensure a good crop of mushrooms. Since the industry is moving towards finding more sustainable alternatives to peat for growing, finding a replacement with similar characteristics is a major challenge. Currently projects such as ‘Beyond Peat’ funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, are trying to identify sustainable alternatives to peat for professional Horticulture.

Eoghan Corbett, a Growing Media Research Officer at Teagasc, adds: “Professional growers in Ireland produce top quality produce, both in the crops we eat and plants we use in our gardens. To ensure that this success continues, we are investigating what renewable materials and waste resources are available in Ireland. Eoghan’s research focuses on identifying resources that can potentially be transformed into peat-alternative growing media for use in horticultural production. It is essential these peat-alternatives be safe, consistent, perform like peat, but are also environmentally sustainable in the long term.

Also in this episode, Michael Gaffney, Horticultural Research Officer at Teagasc, says: “Peat is a unique material and decades of research and development has been required to optimise its use in professional Horticulture. When alternatives to peat that can produce crops with the required yield and quality can be identified, it is essential that there is secure and dependable, long-term supply of these alternative materials, as there will be a significant challenge in identifying what parts of the production and growing processes we need to alter and optimise to facilitate the use of these alternatives”.

And in Curious Chronicles, we join presenter Fergus McAuliffe on a fascinating journey of discovery to reveal the intriguingly named, humungous fungus.

Tune into tonight’s episode of 10 Things to Know About… Fungi (Monday, December 4, at 8.30pm on RTÉ One).