An essay by Maria Leticia Gonzalez Santos, as provided by Katherine Cowley
Art by Liz Argall
In my defense, I was trying to save the planet.
A group of graduate students discovered a fungus in the Amazon that could digest polyurethane. Instead of sitting in a garbage dump for hundreds or thousands of years, tennis shoes, foam, and insulation could decompose rapidly. Naturally, I wasn’t satisfied with a fungus that could digest only one type of plastic. Some have called it hubris, others, my fatal flaw. And perhaps my thirst for tenure overtook my sense. But what mycologist wouldn’t want to modify the fungus so it could digest other plastics as well?
Through a multi-university research partnership, I received samples of the original fungus, Pestalotiopsis microspore. By the time I finished my genetic modifications, my fungus could digest almost any synthetic polymer. Polyester, acrylics, silicone–you name it, my fungus could handle it. Its mottled white coloration reminded me of the moon, and it had an almost hairy texture, so I lovingly gave my new fungus the common name of moonhair.
Imagine the excitement of the scientific community. People wouldn’t have to change their habits or “go green.” Consume your 300 or 400 pounds of plastic a year, send it to the landfill, and moonhair would take care of it for you. My fungus didn’t even require air or sunlight.
Those were the good days, when I was respected for my work. Every scientist deserves respect. Of course, I wasn’t expecting reverence. Frankly, I was abashed when the covers of national magazines compared me to the Virgin Mother. I suppose the parallels were inevitable: my name is Maria Santos–Saint Mary–I saved the world with the birth of my fungus, and no man was involved in the fertilization of my ideas.
Three years later, the United Nations declared the creation of moonhair an act of biological warfare. Rather than be tried for crimes against humanity, I went into hiding.
To read the rest of this story, check out the Mad Scientist Journal: Spring 2018 collection.
Maria Leticia Gonzalez Santos is a former university researcher, dedicated and devoted to doing whatever it takes to improve the world. Her current location cannot be revealed, in the interest of protecting those who have sheltered her.
Katherine Cowley loves European chocolate, the history of science, and steampunk fashion. She has worked as a documentary film producer, a radio producer, and a college writing professor. Her short stories have appeared in Steel and Bone, Segullah, Defenestration, and 365 Tomorrows. She lives in Michigan with her husband and three daughters. You can read many of her stories on katherinecowley.com.
Liz Argall is a speculative fiction author and creator of the all ages webcomics series, Things Without Arms and Without Legs, a comic about creatures who are kind http://www.thingswithout.com/. She lives in Seattle, but her heart misses the big silly birds of Australia.
“Confessions of a Mycologist” is © 2018 Katherine Cowley
Art accompanying story is © 2018 Liz Argall