In an earlier blog I introduced my favorite mycologist, Paul Stamets with some excerpts from The Shark’s Paintbrush.  Paul has just released a book, Fantastic Fungi, and a stunning film by gifted time lapse filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg.

Here’s more from my conversation with Paul …

I asked [Paul] why nature would need to make mushrooms so toxic, and he gave a sensible answer. “Just because mushrooms can be highly toxic to humans, that doesn’t mean they’re harmful to their natural environment. They’re highly evolved, so the chemicals involved must be beneficial—perhaps related to a habitat’s immunity to disease. They’re friends with many other species and are absolutely indispensable in living ecosystems.”

When I spoke with Paul late in 2011, he had recently returned from a conference on new initiatives in medicine (TEDMED), where he discovered that it now costs an average of $1.5 billion to develop a new drug and get it through FDA approval. That is major investment and risk, even for a large pharmaceutical company. Add this to the huge increase in liability as more and more existing pharmaceuticals are being associated with birth defects and other harmful side effects. As a result, fewer drugs are coming to market—just as we’re seeing a rapidly growing, critical need for new treatments against evolving, drug-resistant pathogens. “Fungi are not drugs, but they’re much more than food.” After his decades of research, Paul believes one of their most valuable qualities can be to fortify the human immune system, as well as the environment’s—to actually prevent disease before it takes hold. Prevention has always been a mainstay of Eastern medicine’s approach to health care. Paul’s research has convinced him that a combination of Western and Eastern medicine, enhanced by an understanding of nature’s treasure chest of mycelial solutions, can reduce the incidence of disease—not just the symptoms. “All sorts of mycelium have antiviral and antibacterial properties,” Paul explained. “Penicillin is just one. There are others that are even more complex and sophisticated in their abilities. I’ve been involved with research on one species for novel antiviral effects. It looks like it can suppress many viruses from bird flu to pox. Other mushrooms have been scientifically found to be strongly beneficial as an end-of-life treatment, helping the dying to deeply relax with positive acceptance and a peaceful transition.”

Paul envisions that the interface of computer technology and scientific research will allow us to create and use a comprehensive database of mycelial therapies—to sit down at a computer, for example, and learn which mushrooms can help your particular health challenge. The beneficial active ingredients of fungi can be biomimetically synthesized by manufacturers, so they can work with and not displace the existing pharmaceutical industry. As Paul stresses, “Nature has endless, undiscovered remedies and solutions to disease—all based on synergism—cooperation between species.”

(Excerpted from The Shark’s Paintbrush, copyright Jay Harman. All rights reserved.)

To learn more about Paul’s work and business, visit Fungi Perfecti.