Over his three decades of research, Stamets (at right, with Fungi Perfecti employee Bulmaro Solana) has learned that different strains within a single mushroom species can contain markedly different active compounds. Some strains of Agarikon, for example, show strong activity against influenza viruses; others do not. For this reason, Stamets maintains an ever-expanding gene library of mushroom strains — more than 500 at last count — in petri dishes at the Fungi Perfecti manufacturing plant.
Many of the species Stamets collects can be found only in forests where trees have been growing undisturbed for at least 120 years. Such woodlands are increasingly rare because of logging and development, and Stamets worries that potentially beneficial mushroom varieties, some of them not yet recognized, are being lost in the process. “Preserving mycodiversity is a huge argument for the preservation of old-growth forests,” he says.