Fungus Fridays could save many trees and bite off greenhouse gas emissions. Eating one-fifth less red meat and instead eating microbial proteins derived from mushrooms or algae can reduce annual deforestation half by 2050, researchers report on May 5 in nature.

Raising cattle and other ruminants contributes methane and nitrous oxide to the atmosphere, while clearing pasture forests adds carbon dioxide (SN: 4/4/22; SN: 13.7.21). So we are looking for hunting for environmentally friendly substitutes, such as laboratory-grown burgers and cricket breeding (SN: 20.09.18; SN: 5/2/19).

Another alternative is the microbial protein, made from cells cultured in a laboratory and fed with glucose. Fermented fungal spores, for example, produce a thick, doughy substance called mycoprotein, while fermented algae produce spirulina, a dietary supplement.

Cell-grown foods require sugar from crops, but studies show that mycoprotein produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and uses less land and water than raising cattle, said Florian Humpenoder, a Potsdam climate modeler. Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. However, a full comparison of the future impacts of food on the environment also requires consideration of changes in population, lifestyle, food patterns and technologies, he said.

Thus, Humpen√∂der and his colleagues included projected socio-economic changes in computer simulations of land use and deforestation from 2020 to 2050. They then simulated four scenarios, replacing microbial protein with 0 percent, 20 percent, 50 percent or 80 percent of the world’s diet with red meat until 2050.

The team found that low substitution is a long way off: only 20 percent microbial protein substitution reduces annual levels of deforestation – and associated CO2 emissions – by 56 percent from 2020 to 2050

Eating more microbial protein could be part of a portfolio of strategies to tackle climate crises and biodiversity – along with measures to protect forests and decarbonise electricity production, Humpenoder said.

Replacing some meat with microbial protein could help fight climate change

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