UB Yesterday: 1956-2002

A Spore to Adore


By Sally Jarzab

More than just a pizza topping, mushrooms might just help save the world.

The late Philip Miles, a celebrated UB biology professor from 1956 to 2002, knew well the promising potential of fungi. Easy to grow, even in places without a lot of resources, mushrooms can play a role in addressing global hunger problems. The edible varieties tend to be relatively high in protein, low in fat, and rich in fiber and flavor. Some have important medicinal value. And, like all forms of fungi and bacteria, they act as environmental purifiers, aiding in the carbon cycle through the decomposition of organic matter.

Miles’ research on the sexual mechanisms and genetic control involved in fungi reproduction—he was a biologist, after all—informed the farming practices of foodie-favorites like shiitakes. His 1989 book, “Edible Mushrooms and Their Cultivation,” co-authored with Shu-Ting Chang, is considered a major text in the realm of ’shroom science. The longtime collaborators also founded the World Society for Mushroom Biology and Mushroom Products in 1993, which continues to run today.

Miles’ advice for foraging? Don’t do it. “If it hasn’t been grown on a mushroom farm and sold in the market, it should be avoided except by those capable of making 100-percent accurate identifications,” he told the UB Reporter in 1998. “You may miss some very tasty mushrooms in this way, but at least you’ll live to enjoy other things.”