Saprophytic fungi degrade organic matter to release carbon, nitrogen, and other elements locked up in complexes. There is interest in better degradation of recalictrant ligin and cellulose plant matter as part of a bioenergy program. Some fungi are able to break down these plant molecules that would otherwise remain behind when left to digestion by bacteria.
Many studies have shown the breadth and efficiency of different fungi in degradation of a variety of compounds. For example, Phanerochaete can break down diesel fuel. A recent paper also shows that crude extract from Agaricus bisporus (button mushrooms) can remove up to 90% of phenol from a polluted solution.