Bulletin No. 1, 2019

Mushroom Impossible Kwan Hoi-shan and his Team’s Fungi Enterprise t Mushrooms grow from mycelium. The upper part is the fruiting body and the rest is used for producing biomaterials p The team is developing mushroom powder products to accommodate the needs of the aged Prof. Kwan Hoi-shan has investigated mushroom research for decades. He is Research Professor of CUHK’s School of Life Sciences, Director of Food Research Centre and co-founder of Mushroom-X. Mushroom-X members from the School of Life Sciences have been developing high-quality, edible mushrooms and biomaterials and sowing the seed of sustainable living in the community. Without chlorophyll, mushrooms cannot derive nutrients through photosynthesis. They instead get the necessary nutrients by parasitism, saprophytism or symbiosis. After maturation, the spores develop into mycelium which then releases enzymes to decompose branches, fallen leaves, animal carcasses, etc., to obtain nutrients. Professor Kwan said, ‘The largest organism on earth isn’t the blue whale but Armillaria solidipes in Oregon, US. Its mycelium keeps growing underground and covers an area of 1,350 standard football fields.’ Mycelium can be used to make biomaterials and replace plastic and bricks. The team collects composts, coffee grounds, bean dregs and wood chips to mix with mycelium. The mix- and-match of various containers and nutrients cultivate biomaterials in different sizes and textures, which are nonflammable, heat-insulating, and biodegradable. Some US companies attempt to replace bricks with the new material, but would have to put them in an oven to kill the mushrooms with heat to prevent the growth of fruiting bodies. The Food Research Centre, however, has developed a new technology that suppresses the fungal bricks from further vegetating. The team has obtained a provisional US patent and seek an industry partner. Professor Kwan believes mushrooms could alleviate food shortage and provide vital nutrients. The Mushroom Germplasm Bank, a legacy of Professor Kwan’s teacher Prof. Chang Shu-ting , has more than a hundred mushroom species. The bank enables the team to identify ideal species for local planting. Food safety is ensured by monitoring the production process ‘from gene to table’ without pesticide. Mushroom-X adds an ‘A’ to ‘STEM’ to make STEAM education (art is added to science, technology, engineering and mathematics). The team has been teaching students spore print artwork production. Co-founder Beatrice Ho said, ‘Students can appreciate the beauty of mushrooms by recognizing the uniqueness of spore print. Such learning is more effective than textbook learning.’ Members have developed confidence and communication skills in promoting mushrooms. Helen Lai attributes it to Professor Kwan’s advocacy for entrepreneurship competitions. From the ‘Challenge Cup’ National Competition Hong Kong Regional Final, Vice-Chancellor’s Cup of CUHK, Nanshan ‘Entrepreneurship Star’ Contest to the ‘Chuang Qing Chun’—China College Students’ Entrepreneurship Competition joined by 150,000 student teams nationwide in 2018, Professor Kwan and Beatrice had offered guidance on business proposals, presentation slide design, delivery skills, etc. With the team’s solid practice in the community and excellent presentation, their project ‘Mushroom for the NeXt’ impressed the judges and won the Gold Award in the ‘Chuang Qing Chun’ social entrepreneurship category, the only Gold Award won by a Hong Kong team. Founded in 2017, Mushroom Social Project offering mushroom education on campus is a prototype of the social enterprise. The project received HK$400,000 from CUHK’s Sustainable Knowledge Transfer Fund last year to set up Mushroom-X. The Fund is the first social enterprise seed fund among the local institutions, supporting CUHK practitioners to translate their research discoveries into social enterprises to benefit the community with sustainable business models. The team relies on profit from STEAM education and other funds to support their fungal technology. They will keep perfecting their business model and ‘spreading the spores’ of mushroom value and sustainable living in the community. J. Lau The full article originally appeared in No. 535 of CUHK Newsletter . Scan to read: 31 Mushroom Impossible