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What is mycelium?


Mycelium are the branching roots of fungi. They intertwine and form the most voluminous previously known living organism.  The mechanical strength of mycelium comes from its cell wall structure, which is made out of components like chitin beta-glucans and proteins like mannoproteins and hydrophobins (Haneef et al., 2017). These cell wall components strengthen when exposed to high temperatures, creating a rigid and durable material.

Structure of fungal mycelium. The random branching of the mycelium hyphae creates dense fibrous networks. Each fungal cell is separated by crossing septa, and encapsulated by a cell wall of layering structural proteins (Adapted from Haneef et al., 2017). 

A biological building material


Mycelium properties as a possible building material are currently explored and commercialized by companies like Ecovative and MycoWorks, who have developed standardized procedures to grow fungi with specific characteristics for different applications. Our project stands humbly on the shoulders of these giants.

Mycelium is impressive in its sustainability. It generates no carbon footprint during its production since it feeds on organic matter, such as food waste.Mycelium is completely biodegradable, and can grow into almost any shape as long as there is a mould to direct its growth.

Further, mycelium bricks are so light that they can float on water, and so durable that they withstand substantial pressures without fracturing (Islam et al.,2017). Finally, mycelium can be grown on location, minimising any environmental costs of transportation.

Material tunability


The excitement around mycelium based materials evolves from its tunability. Simply changing the growth conditions, like changing nutritional source, can increase mycelium’s morphology and possibly strength (Haneef et al., 2017). Furthermore, mycelium growth has been show to increase under magnetic fields (Jamil et al., 2012). This adaptability opens wide possibility to manipulating mycelium by changing environmental factors, as well as emerging targeted genome editing such as CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing (Deng et al., 2017).

CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing through knockin, deletion or transcriptional modifications could be used to engineer desired properties to mycelium strains used for biomaterials.

References


Deng, H., Gao, R., Liao, X. and Cai, Y. (2017). CRISPR system in filamentous fungi: Current achievements and future directions. Gene, 627, pp.212-221.

Haneef, M., Ceseracciu, L., Canale, C., Bayer, I., Heredia-Guerrero, J., & Athanassiou, A. (2017). Advanced Materials From Fungal Mycelium: Fabrication and Tuning of Physical Properties. Scientific Reports7, 41292. doi:10.1038/srep41292

Islam, M. R., Tudryn, G., Bucinell, R., Schadler, L., & Picu, R. C. (2017). Morphology and mechanics of fungal mycelium. Scientific Reports, 7, 13070. 

Jamil, Y., Haq, Z., Iqbal, M., Perveen, T. and Amin, N. (2012). Enhancement in growth and yield of mushroom using magnetic field treatment. International Agrophysics, 26(4).

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