Mushroom research at East Malling

Modern mushroom cultivation is an indoor, highly-intensive and controlled series of processes aimed at growing fungal cells, and so is very different from green crops. Up to nine crops per year are produced in a growing house. A number of mushroom species are grown in different countries but in the UK the predominant species grown is the cultivated white mushroom Agaricus bisporus; it is marketed in a range of products including white and brown varieties, and closed, open and Portobello types. The UK mushroom industry annually produces around 70,000 tonnes of mushrooms worth £113M, the largest value of any protected crop. The annual world value of A. bisporus is $4.7 bn.

The first stage of mushroom cultivation is the production of the substrate, mushroom compost, from which it gains nutrition. Wheat straw is mixed with a nitrogen source, gypsum and water, and the ensuing microbial fermentation under controlled conditions results in mushroom compost containing partially decomposed straw embedded in humic substances. The compost is inoculated with Agaricus bisporus mycelium which fully colonises the compost after approximately 17 days. The final stage of mushroom cultivation is the manipulation of the environment to stimulate mushroom fruitbody production; the colonised compost is covered with a 55 mm layer casing soil consisting of a peat/sugarbeet lime mix, the growing room temperature is reduced and gases released during fermentation are diluted by the ventilation with fresh air.

EMR are researching all aspects of mushroom cultivation: compost production and quality, mycelial growth, replacement of peat with alternatives, the stimulation of mushroom production, genomics and mushroom diseases. These approaches have led to a number of research and development opportunities that can be applied to other horticultural crops such as disease suppressive composts, peat replacement, and formulation of growing media.

Mushroom nutrition

The mushroom, Agaricus bisporus, is saprotrophic, i.e. it derives its nutrition from dead plant material by the extracellular enzymic digestion. It has a specific preference for partially-degraded cereal leaves (composted straw) rich in humic substances, and alive and dead microbes, … Continue Reading

The Agaricus genome project

Transcriptomic omparison of gene expression levels in infected (above) and uninfected (left) mushrooms An international consortium of scientists from seven countries has been working to complete the sequencing and analyses of the Agaricus bisporus genome. The genome sequencing was funded … Continue Reading

Mushroom Virus X disease

Investigating alternatives to peat and sugar beet lime in mushroom casing Outbreaks of mushroom virus X (MVX) occur each year. Economic consequences include yield losses, delayed cropping and reduced mushroom quality (brown, discoloured and distorted mushrooms). MVX is a complex … Continue Reading

Mushroom morphogenesis

When Agaricus bisporus grows and colonises compost it exists as a network (mycelium) of fine filamentous cells known as hyphae. These cells are largely involved in extracting nutrition from the compost by releasing extracellular enzymes to break down the polymers. … Continue Reading

Mushroom casing

Large scale compost production in action The mushroom obtains almost all of its nutrients from the compost layer, but both compost and casing layers contribute to the high water requirement of the crop. The characteristics of casing materials are different … Continue Reading

Control of Trichoderma Green Moulds

Green mould on casing surface and symptoms on mushrooms One of the most serious production problems that affects mushroom cultivation is that caused by competitor and pathogenic green moulds (Trichoderma species). Of these, the aptly named Trichoderma aggressivum has caused … Continue Reading

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