Ep. 37: Mycomaker - Building Mycotectura and Spreading Mycophilia in Ecuador (feat. Nelson Dueñas)

Today on Mushroom Hour we are grateful for the opportunity to interview biologist Nelson Dueñas who is a founding member of the MycoMaker project in Ecuador. Mycomaker is an organization that was born in the minds of biology students in late 2016 and was founded by Nelson in early 2017. The group has undertaken keystone fungal projects including promoting mushroom cultivation, researching mycelium as a building material, and even researching potentials of mushroom grafting!

Touching down on the sacred grounds of the Yasuni National Park in the Amazon, we meet some unique jungle fungi - bio-luminescent mycena, alien cordyceps and many others which first captured Nelson's imagination. Ecuador is the home to some of the world's most precious environmental regions including the Yasuni National Park, the Chocó bio-region, Los Cedros bio-reserve and the Mashpi rainforest reserve. Unbelievably, Ecuador is home to 6.4% of all species on earth in just 280,000 sq. km. This includes an incredible array of endemic fungi. How is this insanely biodiverse environment under threat? How much untouched environment is left in Ecuador?   

Called to share his love of mushrooms and fungi, Nelson and a team including other biologists (and now designers and manufacturers) created the MycoMaker project. Inspired by the fungi visionary Phil Ross, one of their main goals was to pursue mycelium as a material. They dubbed their research in biomaterials "mycotectura" and began by creating art canvas from mycelium. In their materials research, the MycoMaker team experiments with many different species of fungi mycelium to explore the properties each can offer as a material aside from just durability. As we learn about their experiments in materials science, we glimpse a vision of a sustainable future that may find us living in domes made of mycelium.   

Mycomaker's mission includes sharing a love of mushrooms and making mushroom cultivation more accessible to every community in Ecuador. In 2019, they hosted a special mycotectura fair that brought in hundreds of people from all walks of life to inspire them with mycelium materials and mushroom cultivation. Nelson sums up his team's ambition as sharing a love of mushrooms, changing people's perceptions when it comes to fungi, and encouraging them to recognize the importance of funga to the environment. As our conversation winds down, we venerate the mystery and awe that mushrooms represent. When it comes to fungi, the more we learn, the more we realize we don't know.   

Episode Resources   
MycoMaker website: https://hongos.guru/   
MycoMaker IG: https://www.instagram.com/mycomaker/   
Yasuni Rainforest: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yasuni_National_Park   
Phil Ross (inspiration): https://www.mycoworks.com/   
Nidulariaceae ("bird's nest fungi"): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nidulariaceae 

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