New £1.3m project to study whether fungi can be used to stop landslips

(Image: EQRoy, Shutterstock)

A new £1.3 million research project will explore the possibility of the use of fungi in the prevention of landslips.

Led by the University of Strathclyde, the work will also involve Cardiff University, the University of Naples Federico II and engineering firm BAM Ritchies.

The study will explore the use of fungi and their properties in strengthening soil and reducing infiltration of rainwater, which the Glasgow-based university said is a common cause of landslips.

It will use fungi and soil collected from the UK and Italy to understand how the growth of different fungal species can be controlled to improve the engineering performance of natural soils.

Dr El Mountassir, a senior lecturer in the University of Strathclyde’s department of civil and environmental engineering, commented, “Fungi are incredibly resilient and adaptable. Fungi on the floors of North American forests are believed to be some of the oldest living organisms on Earth, with individual organisms dated as around 1500-years-old.

“We know a lot about the uses of fungi in making food and drink, such as bread and beer, but we know relatively little about them in other contexts. However, we also know that, as fungi grow through soils to forage for nutrients, they build a 3D network of biomass that acts both to bind soil particles together but also releases products that can modify how water moves through soil.

“Some slopes regularly fail after periods of heavy rainfall when water infiltrates into the soil and reduces its strength. The idea of this study is to use fungi to create a biological geotextile at the soil surface, which could reduce the ability of water to penetrate into the soil, and therefore improve the stability of slopes.

“The research is part of a transition towards a more sustainable, low-carbon civil engineering sector and as a growth-based system, it would reduce the amount of materials needing to be transported to site.”

UK science minister, Amanda Solloway, added, “As home to the innovators who demonstrated the first working television and telephone, Scotland has a unique history in technological innovation. Backed with £13 million of UK Government funding, these pioneering projects in Scotland, whether that’s making smart devices sustainable or supporting the fishing industry to combat climate change, will continue that proud tradition.

“We are putting science and innovation at the heart of our efforts to build back better from Covid-19, empowering our scientific leaders of tomorrow to drive forward game-changing research and helping to secure the UK’s status as a global science superpower.”