In an anodyne grey North Vancouver business park, Gavin Schneider is growing a whitish paste he believes will one day replace meat and feed astronauts on Mars.

The paste is mycelium or the so-called 'body' of fungi. This long-overlooked organism has recently burst into the spotlight, with proponents saying it offers remedies to some of the ills of industrialization, like plastic pollution. The Canadian Space Agency has even shown interest in Schneider's work as a possible source of food for space missions.

"I think there is really going to be a niche of application," said UC Davis professor Valeria La Saponara, an aerospace engineer who started working with mycelium several years ago.

A network of thread-like strands, mycelium can digest organic matter and some chemicals and be formed into different shapes and textures. That makes it ideal for creating things like compostable plastics, "living" building materials that can repair themselves, and techniques to clean soils of chemicals — but "it cannot replace everything," she said. 

And if Schneider is right, it could be the newest trend in alternative meats. "It's a fibrous, high-protein ingredient that will be used in meat analogs," he explained, showing off a handful of the popcorn-like flakes his company, Maia Farms, made by drying the whitish paste. Once compressed, flavored and colored, the flakes can "become anything you want," from imitation burgers to plant-based steak.

Read the entire article at Canada's National Observer