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    Marquette fungi business trying to turn PFAS into rocket fuel

    By Schyler Perkins,


    MARQUETTE, Mich. (WJMN) — Two Marquette-area entrepreneurs who sell restaurant-quality, fresh mushrooms have also received a big grant to further their research into how fungi could be a solution to the nationwide PFAS problem. It may even blast projectiles into the stratosphere.

    Mushroom enthusiasts-turned-researchers Joe Lane and Ryan Iacovacci met a few years ago in a mushroom foraging class. Lane has a biology degree from Northern Michigan University, while Iacovacci has over a decade of experience in practical agriculture.

    First coming together for their passion for local food and fungi, the pair quickly became collaborators to discover how mushrooms can solve more problems than an empty dinner plate.

    Now, the pair runs two companies. Their first endeavor, Marquette Mushrooms, grows edible mushrooms locally for markets and restaurants.


    Their latest venture, MycoNaut, was founded in 2022. It’s also what landed them the $275,000 grant from the National Science Foundation earlier this year.

    Lane and Iacovacci founded MycoNaut to formally pursue research that gripped their interest after coming across it.

    “The kingdom of fungi has been kind of neglected for the past 100 years,” said Iacovacci. “With our specific project, what happened was, we stumbled upon some research from the University of Minnesota that was using an isolated fungal species to break down these pollutants known as PFAS.”

    That chemical likely sounds familiar . What was once lauded as an innovative solution to everything from non-stick pans to firefighting materials has more recently been discovered to possibly take 1,000 years to break down and has been found to be bad for human health.

    It’s a global problem that the pair at MycoNaut think they can begin to tackle now that they have funding for their research.

    On the PFAS problem, Iacovacci said, “What’s interesting is that these compounds are like a carbon chain, like woody debris, but the difference is that there’s a fluorine attached to the carbon, that makes it very difficult to break down.”

    Iacovacci said while it may be an impossible challenge for people, “fungi have this evolutionary wisdom of 2.5 billion years. They’ve seen it all from volcanoes to asteroids to ice ages, and yet they survived… we thought, ‘if we only know, scientifically, maybe 10% of the fungal genome, and there’s upwards of 10-20 million species, it’s highly probably that there are other species of fungi that know how to manipulate this material for different purposes.'”

    He told Local 3 that they hope to use the promising preliminary results shown by other researchers as a jumping-off point to expand the research and create practical applications.

    The pair at MycoNaut saw one possible application in the development of a specialized mushroom and nutrient mix that could be seeded on contaminated ground based on whether the intended use is farming, heavy pollution remediation or residential use.

    “You know, like how if you got to the doctor, you give them a blood sample and they say, ‘Hey, here’s a recommendation,'” said Iacovacci.

    The team also says they have developed an A.I. tool to help formulate those recommendations.

    Iacovacci concedes that there may still be a long way to go before the finish line, saying some of the groundbreaking results that inspired their venture are difficult to replicate.

    Despite that, he said the field is also rife with possibilities. “It’s crazy hopeful to know how many smart people are working on this problem,” said Iacovacci, “and here’s something that’s really trippy. If the science holds true, you can homogenize [PFAS compounds] and basically make them into salts, and you can use these ionic salts, and they can become, potentially, fuel for ionic thrusters.”

    Iacovacci said it’s just one example of what could be possible with the byproduct of their PFAS remediation solution, but said he and Lane have been in some communication with Kall Morris Inc.—a local team working on solutions to debris in space—about the possibility.

    “We’ve talked quite a bit and shared some ideas… and you know, space travel and mushrooms go hand-in-hand,” Iacovacci said.

    In the near future, the pair has hired a full-time lab technician and plans to continue their research and conduct field tests later this year. Right now, they hope to potentially bring a product to market around 2025.

    You can learn more about MycoNaut on their website and follow updates on their social media .

    Copyright 2024 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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