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Scottish Scientists Pioneering New Food Source to Combat Carbon Emissions

Scottish Scientists Pioneering New Food Source to Combat Carbon Emissions fungi, mushrooms, mycelium, Science Food and Beverage Business

The UK government aims to address the country’s carbon footprint by establishing new food sources that align with Net Zero targets and reduce reliance on imports. Currently, all major food production in the UK generates greenhouse gases.

A study conducted by experts at the University of Stirling found that planting fungi alongside trees can sequester up to 12.8 tonnes of carbon per hectare annually. This research demonstrated that the cultivation of protein-rich mushrooms has the potential to provide a nutritious food source for nearly 19 million people globally. Building on this research, the University of Stirling and truffle producer Mycorrhizal Systems Ltd have initiated a two-year trial on the island of Bute. They will cover the root system of new trees with fungi to produce edible mushrooms.

The government-funded initiative, valued at £800,000, will be led by Honorary Professor Paul Thomas. The project aims to assess the environmental benefits and wider economic impact of this innovative approach to food production. Professor Thomas, founder of Mycorrhizal Systems, believes that if implemented on a large scale, this method could significantly increase domestic food production, encourage tree planting, and contribute to mitigating climate change.

Professor Alistair Jump, Dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences and co-author of the research, adds that this project will position the UK as a pioneer in the field of EMF (ectomycorrhizal fungi) technology. The study suggests that for every kilogram of protein produced, this system can sequester up to 406 kilograms of carbon, while also supporting biodiversity and conservation efforts. In contrast, traditional food production methods often result in greenhouse gas emissions.

If successful, the trial could lead to job creation in the UK and worldwide. Professor Jump highlights that the project will generate positive socio-economic impacts, particularly in rural areas, through job creation and infrastructure development. The innovation is expected to have a direct annual contribution to the UK economy and offer additional economic benefits through the distribution chain.

The two-year project is funded by BBSRC, part of UKRI, the leading UK public funder of non-medical bioscience.

The emerging field of mycoforestry

According to recent research published in PNAS, growing edible mushrooms alongside trees presents a valuable solution to address food production challenges, combat climate change, and promote sustainable practices. This approach reduces the need for deforestation and incentivizes tree planting.

Professor Thomas states that mycoforestry has the potential for significant carbon sequestration, with estimates of up to 12.8 tonnes of carbon per hectare annually. Furthermore, this method can provide a nutritious food source for millions of people. By adopting this system, it is possible to actively contribute to mitigating climate change, unlike other major food production systems that lead to greenhouse gas emissions.

He highlights the ongoing global issue of land-use conflict between forestry and food production, emphasizing the urgent need for more research and support from relevant agencies. Professor Thomas believes that this scalable and realistic food production system can address multiple challenges, including biodiversity loss, rural socio-economic development, and increased tree planting rates.

 

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