Cleansing Agent? Try Mushrooms

From: Center of Faculty Development, University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center, Downtown Denver Newsletter: Latitude Winter 2006

If Marc Donskyʼs research findings are any indication, contaminated soils could soon be mushrooming in a good way. Donsky, senior instructor of chemistry, is working on the bioremediation of soils contaminated with motor oil, gasoline or diesel by using Pleurotus ostreatus (oyster mush-
room) and other white rot fungi as bioreactors to cleanse the earth. “These organisms are able to metabolize all types of organic molecules—including hydrocarbons, PCBs, pesticides, and explosives—into water and carbon dioxide,” Donsky explains. “In the case of chlorinated hydrocarbons, the chlorine is converted to nontoxic chloride ion.”

Donsky, a faculty member at the downtown Denver campus since 2000, says his initial experiments reduced soil contaminated with motor oil by 50 percent in three weeks. Experiments with diesel fuel showed similar results. The research examines the uses and efficiencies of different media and organisms that can be applied toward the bioremediation project. “We like to focus on the use of recycled materials,” he says. “For example, coffee grounds are a great medium or oyster mushrooms, make great compost and have a large surface area that can help contribute to the efficiency of bioremediation.” The next step in the process is to go beyond the laboratory and out to the field. “In South Park, Weld County, and other parts of Colorado there are ranches and farms with barns and underground storage tanks where oil changes and leaks have created small- to medium- size contaminated sites not considered Superfund sites,” he says. “These
are perfect candidates for our methods of remediation.”

When heʼs not conducting field research, Donsky teaches biochemistry in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Colorado Downtown Denver Campus and—with his startup company Mammoth Mountain Mushrooms is contributing to the health of the inhabitants of the Earth as well as the land itself. Donsky grows Reishi, Cordyceps, Turkey Tail, Ganoderma lucidum, Cordyceps sinensis and Tramates versi-color mushrooms: “All of these mushrooms are reputed to have immunostimulatory, anti-cancer and anti-viral properties,” he says.

Donskyʼs work is complementary to the bioremediation research of Biology Professor Timberley Roane and Engineering Professor Anu Ramaswami. Roane uses bacteria for mercury bioremediation, and Ramaswami is researching trees as a means to remove heavy metals from soil. “Our projects using the three kingdoms (bacteria, fungi, plants) for bioremediation makes UCDHSC a leader in this research,” Donsky stresses.

This April, The Donsky Lab was awarded a UROP (Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program) Grant for our work with medicinal mushrooms for the 2007-08 academic year.