In September 2018, strange projects popped up inside shipping containers in London. As a part of the London Design Week, the Biodesign Here Now by Open Cell showcased the innovative mindsets of biodesigners today. Luis Guzmán, our chief creative officer, represented Mycterials and set up our most eco-centric exhibition yet.
In contrast to mixing mycelium with metals and magnets, we hoped to present something concrete – something 100% alive and 100% sustainable. Our new biodesign concept ‘EcoSpace’ is a closed ecosystem made of a bioplastic, on which plants and mycelium interact and create a symbiotic exchange of CO² and oxygen.
EcoSpace proposes an architectural approach in which polycaprolactone, a biodegradable polymer, provides support and guidance for the growth process of the organisms while simultaneously giving nutrients for the development of the ecosystem.
On a thematic level, the piece explores the future of terraforming due to the accelerated destruction of natural ecosystems.
We hope this initiative contributes to the designing of ecosystems in public as well as private spaces in the near future, and helps to reduce the impact of the loss of biodiversity in urban areas.
If you are interested in our project, feel free to contact us via email.
Amongst hundreds of design projects featured at the September 2018 London Design Festival, we are happy to have been noticed. Read more about the highlights from the fair and the creative biodesign projects at Open Cell on Core 77!
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.
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.
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).
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 Reports, 7, 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).
A beautiful friendship
Engineering relationships between microbes and mycelium could enhance existing biological properties of fungi. Bacteria and fungi are known to naturally interact through physical association as well as molecular communication (Frey-Klett et al., 2011). Previous studies have shown existing endosymbiotic relationships between e.g. photosynthetic cyanobacteria and mycelium hyphae, which provide protection, water and nutrients to the bacteria, resulting in improved atmospheric acetylene reduction and nitrogen fixation (Lumini et al., 2006). In exchange, the bacteria supply carbon and nitrogen to the mycelium to improve its growth.
Other bacterial strains such as Pseudomonas fluorescens have shown to increase mycelium biomass in unfavourable conditions (Frey-Klett et al., 2011). Further, proteomic and lipid metabolite profiling of Gigaspora margarita fungus grown with Candidatus bacteria show changes in the protein and lipid content of mycelium cell walls (Salvioli et al., 2010). The relationship also increases fungal bioenergetic ATP production, sporulation and responsiveness to branching inducing molecular signals (Salvioli et al., 2015). Additionally, mixed bacterial-fungal consortia have been shown to biodegrade fungal hydrocarbons, such as self-inhibitory metabolic factors that could promote the fungal growth (Frey-Klett et al., 2011). The symbiotic relationships show evidence of inheritable genetic changes within both bacterial and fungal genomes, opening a chance for directed evolution.
A synthetic symbiosis between specific endosymbiotic bacteria and mycelium could therefore be used to perpetuate the growth and structural endurance of fungal hyphae on the cellular level. Mycelium can support bacterial species germination and survival in culture conditions through water and nutrient exchange (Worrich et al., 2017). The same method could be used to create an optimised synthetic bacterial-fungal consortia during laboratory mycelium culturing. The strategy could also help identify key nutritional metabolites for designing external supplements to maximise mycelium development.
Frey-Klett, P. et al. (2011). Bacterial-Fungal Interactions: Hyphens between Agricultural, Clinical, Environmental, and Food Microbiologists. Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews, 75(4), pp.583-609.
Lumini, E. et al. (2006). Endobacteria or bacterial endosymbionts? To be or not to be. New Phytologist, 170(2), pp.205-208.
Salvioli, A., et al. (2010). Endobacteria affect the metabolic profile of their host Gigaspora margarita, an arbuscular mycorrhizal fungus. Environ. Microbiol. 12:2083–2095.
Salvioli, A. et al. (2015). Symbiosis with an endobacterium increases the fitness of a mycorrhizal fungus, raising its bioenergetic potential. The ISME Journal, 10(1), 130-144.
Worrich, A. et al. (2017). Mycelium-mediated transfer of water and nutrients stimulates bacterial activity in dry and oligotrophic environments. Nature Communications, 8, p.15472.
On June 2018, Mycterials participated in one of the top Biodesign summits in the world – the Biodesign Challenge at MoMa, NYC. For those of you who are not familiar with this conference, the Biodesign Challenge takes place every year, and here biologists and designers from universities all over the world come together and showcase innovative biotechnology projects. In the scorching summer heat of New York City (warm for even those unaccustomed to living in Scotland’s rainy weather), we witnessed some of the upcoming trends in biodesign. We invite you to check the Biodesign Challenge web page if you’re interested to know more about this event.
Designing ecological solutions
It’s easy to feel isolated when talking to people who don’t seem as conscious about environmental issues. More than ever before, we are facing planet-wide environmental problems issues such as global warming, animal welfare and pollution. The Biodesign Challenge demonstrated that our generation is filled with driven problem solvers, who are just as concerned about these issues as much as we are! And not just that, the competing teams are creating and developing new ways to tackle a lot of these problems in ways other people haven’t even thought of before. The event lifts up the morale for environment-concerned people and inspired us to think that no idea is crazy enough to disregard as a potential sustainable project.
After all – aren’t many great ideas based on science-fiction scenarios in the first place?
Popularity of mycelium
The creativity involved in the featured biodesign projects seemed endless. It ranged from tackling plastic consumption with kombucha diapers (Sorbit) from microbes to uncover landmines (Microbial Frontline Recovery). However, one material shined distinctively over the rest, as many of the competing projects involved mycelium. Due to the material’s amendability and biodegradability, mycelium was applied in a range of creative ways, such as harvesting kinetic energy in footwear (MyStep) or a domestic farming system, which consumes plastic while producing nutrient-rich fungi (Plastomach). In fact, a mycelium based biodegradable toilet (MYCommunity Toilet) won first prize in the summit. This project is a demonstration mycelium’s versatility as real-life biomaterial.
We’ll be following our fellow mycelium bio-innovators closely, with anticipation on their developments and open to possible future collaborations.
Curiosity and collaboration
After the presentation of our project at MoMa NYC, we got a chance to present our work in a more one-to-one scenario at the Parsons School of Design. We answered a lot of questions by curious viewers and were surprised by the amount of people interested in our project and the way Mycterials could work.
We had some time at the end of the expo to talk to our colleagues about their projects and know more about their plans on taking their inventions to the hands of consumers. This open interest and collaborative mindset created a warm and unifying atmosphere, where we were not competitors at all, but like-minded students burning to solve issues larger than ourselves.
We’d like to thank organizers Alison Irvine and Veena Vijayakumar for allowing us to participate in this exciting summit. The encouraging energy of the Biodesign Challenge is sure to fuel our progress in the future.
We are happy to announce that Mycterials is participating in the Biodesign Challenge Summit at NYC in June 22nd!