What happens when a pair of industrial designers team up with researchers from Utrecht University to try to save the planet—beautifully?

Ladies and gentlemen, this device that looks like something out of a ’60s sci-fi film is the Fungi Mutarium prototype. Wired reports that industrial designers Katharina Unger and Julia Kaisinger of LIVIN studio worked with Utrecht University’s Dr. Han Wösten and Kasia Lukasiewiecz to find mushroom strains that could successfully digest plastics.

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The little round pods called FUs that Unger is intently examining in the photo are made of agar jelly, which is derived from seaweed. Side note: agar is already in common culinary use as a vegetarian substitute for gelatin, and has been used for a long time in Japanese cuisine.

Unger then uses a UV light to both sterilize the plastic and open it up so the mycelium (root-parts of all fungi; in this case, specifically mushrooms) she uses in the next step can begin breaking it down. Then she gently places the plastic inside an agar pod before dripping her chosen fungi down a pipette.

Here’s the problem: the breakdown of the plastic currently takes several months to complete. You can easily see where this could impede implementation of Fungi Mutariums across the world, quickly clearing up all our polluted bodies of water.

But as Unger told Dezeen, it’s not all bad news. [pullquote]”This is the part of the project that is still ongoing research. Our research partner [Utrecht University] expects that the digestion will go much quicker once processes are fully researched and optimized.”[/pullquote]

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But how does it taste?

Unger’s team is currently using two different strains of fungi: Pleurotus Ostreatus, which is more commonly called oyster mushroom and Schizophyllum Commune, more commonly called split gill. 

Unger told Dezeen,

Pleurotus varies from very mild to very strong, sometimes described as sweet with the smell of anise or licorice. Texture and flavor depend a lot on the strain.

Schizophyllum is known to have a rather tough texture, which is harder to acquire for Western cultures. We found the taste to be rather neutral.”

The design team has even come up with special cutlery to use with your Fungi Mutarium. So far, it’s received so much praise that LIVIN Studio plans to launch a Kickstarter in 2015 to fund its production. Here, you can see some of the cutlery along with with some of the tastier FU pod recipes with which the team has been experimenting.

FU cutlery 1 FU cutlery 3 FU cutlery 5 FU cutlery 4 FU cutlery 6 FU cutlery 2

No long-term studies have been done to prove that this is as effective and safe a food option as we all hope. After all, plastics can be toxic. But even if this isn’t the final way humanity is able to simultaneously clean up our mess and feed the hungry, it’s an extremely intriguing line of inquiry that deserves further study.

[via Wired, LIVIN studio, Dezeen]