Have you ever heard the expression “being treated like a mushroom?” Well, that may entail being fed oil in the near future. The UK’s Telegraph reported on a new plan to develop mushrooms capable of reclaiming land from oil spills.

According to Clare Kendall, columnist for the Telegraph, an anonymous British donor is funding the project. Jess Work and Brian Page, both American biologists, and Ricardo Viteri, an Ecuadorian fungus expert, are heading up research to develop a mushroom that can eat toxic components in the soil thereby leeching the materials from land.

The process – known as mycoremediation – is being supported by an American charity – The Cloud Institute. It was pioneered by Paul Stamets, the US-based mushroom advocate, who believes that fungus could play a major role in restoring polluted land.

Jess Work claims, “Mushrooms are the world’s great recyclers,” adding, “They eat trash!” Typically, most fungus prefers to feed on wood, which is based on the material as oil – carbon. With this relationship in mind, the scientists have observed mushrooms feeding on petroleum in the laboratory, and now have set out to find contaminated environments for trial research.

Work said, “the question isn’t ‘does it work’ it’s about maximizing effects.” “The decontamination task here is huge.”

The technology has been used previously to clean up oil spills in San Francisco last November, but this will be the first time this experiment has been conducted in the tropics. The team is currently cultivating oyster mushrooms, which the scientists claim are particularly versatile and aggressive. The Ecuador-based experiment will be carried out under the many pipelines crossing the jungle.

Page said, the goal of the project is to find mushrooms that naturally like oil. “If we could develop a strain of mushroom whose particular ecological niche was oil pollution and nothing else; that would be our dream!”

Viteri explained, “The same enzyme mushrooms use to digest lignin, a main component of wood, is used to digest petroleum.” Although Viteri points out that this is not a cure and will most likely work on small scale.

Viteri said, there’s no miracle solution. The mushrooms can’t reclaim oil pits in their raw state, but it can make the soil reusable after the bulk has been removed allowing people to regenerate their own “patch.”

“This would be an amazing thing for the people here, to be able to remediate their own land,” said Viteri.