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Darrin Schultz Talks to Study.com About Growing Food From Waste

Apr 08, 2011

Oberlin College sophomore Darrin Schultz is currently taking steps to help end the problem of world hunger, and it all starts with some trash found in his biology lab. It turns out that in the right conditions, edible mushrooms can grow from paper waste like pizza boxes or paper towels. Schultz hopes to find a way to grow free, edible food using only discarded items. Study.com got in touch with him to ask him a little more about his research and his academic experience.

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By Eric Garneau

mushrooms

Study.com: What led you to pick Oberlin College?

Darrin Schultz: While in high school, Oberlin College always had a special draw to me because of the creative and generally free-thinking student body. Students here typically take their coursework very seriously, but in their free time do incredible things, be it in music, art, writing or science. I wanted to surround myself with people who both work and play hard, so to speak, and Oberlin happened to be the best choice for me when selecting schools.

Study.com: How did you decide on majoring in biology?

DS: I originally wanted to study languages and music while in college, but I had a phenomenal high school biology teacher, Rebecca Jessen, who introduced me to a very strange way of thinking about the world - thinking like a biologist. I found myself constantly analyzing simple day-to-day occurrences within the knowledge and vocabulary of biology, and was inspired by the 'big' questions that biologists have answered and continue to ask.

Study.com: What inspired your research with composting using edible mushrooms?

DS: I recently became interested in fungi (mushrooms, molds, yeasts and related organisms), and learned that many species of commonly cultivated mushrooms obtain carbon by decomposing the cellulose and lignin found in all paper products. After seeing other mycologists' small-scale success of using newspaper as a substrate for these species, I wanted to scale the operation up to use paper waste products commonly found on college campuses. My main inspiration was the potential of having large amounts of delicious, nutritious and extremely cheap food that could be grown using the materials at hand.

Study.com: Perhaps a similar question, but when did you figure out you were really on to something with that research? Put another way, what was your first major success or 'Eureka!' moment?

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DS: This body of work is purely application of known phenomena, so the real 'Eureka!' moments are when the project has come to fruition and a tangible final result has been achieved. However, when I first began the project, I did not expect the fungi I was working with to be such voracious decomposers! I found that no matter the type of cellulose-containing food source, the mushroom cultures grew rapidly - so rapidly, in fact, that I was not able to work as fast as they grew!

Study.com: What applications do you see for this research?

DS: The main application of this research is the potential for nearly free food production from waste that can be found anywhere in the world. My initial inspiration was the potential of free food for student-run food cooperatives in Oberlin, but there are many more people around the world who would benefit more from this process than Oberlin College students.

Study.com: Have you given any thought to a career or other post-college plans yet?

DS: I will most likely pursue a doctoral program immediately after completing my undergraduate degree. As for long-term plans, I would like to operate my own biotech or science-based business.

Study.com: Is there anything else you'd like to say to our readers about your research or your school experience?

DS: To all other science students, I strongly suggest pursuing research of whatever you may be interested in. Even if there are no faculty members at your school who research your subject of interest, many of them will be interested in helping you find small grants or lab space to do independent work if you are driven enough to do so. Many of these experiences will challenge you in ways more relevant to skills needed after college than any other college research experience will.

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