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Join host Paul Shapiro as he talks with some of the leading start-up entrepreneurs and titans of industry alike using their businesses to help solve the world’s most pressing problems.

Aug 15, 2022

You’ve heard of flora (plants). You’ve heard of fauna (animals). But have you heard of funga? That’s the relatively new way to describe this third kingdom of life on earth: the vast number of species of fungi which aren’t plants nor animals, but are a different branch on the tree of life.

And it turns out that fungi are a lot more important than many in the past have realized. In fact,  they seem to play a major role in just how much carbon the soil is storing. Certain fungi, it seems, are particularly effective at sequestering carbon than others and in making trees grow a lot faster. Some even say that a one percent increase in soil-based carbon could be sufficient to stop an increase in CO2 in the atmosphere.

Enter mycologist and entrepreneur Colin Averill and his new startup Funga. Having just raised a million dollars of seed venture capital, he’s seeking to start reforesting depleted land and converting it into biodiverse carbon sinks much faster than would otherwise occur. 

Think of it kind of like a fecal transplant (yep), but instead, it’s more like a fungal transplant. It may sound disgusting, but we know that you can take feces from a healthy person, inoculate (aka insert) a sick person with them, and the good microbes populate the colon of the sick person, turning them well. Similarly, you can take rich, biodiverse soil from a healthy, old growth forest and inoculate agriculturally depleted land with it, and biodiverse life returns, causing trees to grow up to three times faster than they normally would (wood?).

So, how do you make a business out of reforesting ex-agricultural land? Let Colin give you the scoop (of soil) on how he and Funga are going to monetize this type of carbon capture. 

Discussed in this episode

  • In a Vox story on deforestation, they note: "It’s not toilet paper or hardwood floors or even palm oil. It’s beef. Clearing trees for cattle is the leading driver of deforestation, by a long shot. It causes more than double the deforestation that’s linked to soy, oil palm, and wood products combined, according to the World Wildlife Fund."
  • Local FOX coverage of Funga’s work.
  • Our past episodes with Global Thermostat (direct carbon capture) and Coral Vita (rehabilitation of coral reefs).
  • This CNN story about a startup called Living Carbon making faster-growing trees.
  • Colin loves the book Entangled Life and the podcast My Climate Journey.

More about Colin Averill

Dr. Colin Averill is a Senior Scientist at ETH Zürich’s Crowther Lab, where he and his team study the forest microbiome. How does incredible microbial diversity affect which trees are in a forest, forest carbon sequestration and climate change forecasts? He focuses on the ecology of mycorrhizal fungi - fungi that form a symbiosis with the roots of most plants on Earth. In addition to his academic role, he is the Founder of Funga PBC, a new startup harnessing forest fungal networks to address the climate crisis. He is also co-founder of SPUN – the Society for the Protection of Underground Networks – a non-profit dedicated to documenting and protecting mycorrhizal fungal life across the planet.