24 March 2022

From rot and mold…

Scientists have obtained eco-leather, yarn and paper from mushrooms that feed on bread

Tatiana Matveeva, "Scientific Russia"

With the help of fungi, the researchers transformed food waste into eco-friendly artificial leather, as well as paper and cotton substitutes with properties comparable to traditional materials. The production of fungal skin takes less time than for existing substitutes already on the market, and, unlike some, the new material is 100% based on biological raw materials, EurekAlert! reports. The results of the work are presented at the conference of the American Chemical Society.

To feed the mushrooms, the team collected unsold bread from the supermarket, dried it and crushed it into breadcrumbs. The researchers mixed breading with water in an experimental reactor and added Rhizopus delemar spores, which are commonly found in decomposing products. When this mushroom ate bread, it produced microscopic natural fibers from chitin and chitosan, which accumulated in its cell walls. Two days later, the scientists collected the cells and removed lipids, proteins and other by-products that could be used in food or feed. The jelly-like residue, consisting of fibrous cell walls, was then spun into yarn (in the picture on the left), which can be used to create surgical threads and even for sewing clothes.


In another case, a suspension of fungal cells was laid out on a flat surface and dried to obtain materials similar to paper or leather (in the right part of the figure). The first prototypes of fungal skin turned out to be thin and insufficiently flexible. Now the team is trying to create a new version of the material consisting of several layers in order to more accurately simulate real animal skin. These composites include layers treated with tannins of woody origin, which give softness to the structure, and layers treated with alkali, which give it strength. Tests show that fungal skin has mechanical properties quite comparable to the properties of genuine leather. At the same time, it consists exclusively of natural materials – without synthetic polymers derived from oil – and, therefore, is biodegradable.

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