Your Clothes in The Future Could Be a Living, Self-Repairing Material

Researchers from Newcastle University and Northumbria University in the UK have discovered that many fungus create thin, root-like threads that have the potential to be utilized as a biodegradable, wearable material that can also self-heal.

The Ganoderma lucidum fungus, which produces a skin from branching filaments known as hyphae, which collectively weave into a structure called a mycelium, was the subject of the researchers' studies.

The delicate skins might replace leather with a little more effort, fulfilling vegan, environmental, and fashion preferences. However, before it can be used to make the jacket of the upcoming season, the production process must be sped up and scaled up.

The researchers conclude in their recently published report that their findings "indicate that mycelium materials can survive in dry and oligotrophic environments, and self-healing is possible with minimal intervention after a two-day recovery period."

Materials made from mycelium are already employed in several industries, including textiles and building. The chlamydospores, the fungal spores that support the organism's ability to replenish itself, are usually killed off during the process used to create these materials.

Mycelia, chlamydospores, carbohydrates, proteins, and other nutrients were combined in a novel method to promote the formation of a skin that could be removed and dried. Although the findings are now too thin and delicate to be used as clothing, the researchers are sure that future developments might make it into a tougher skin, perhaps by layering or plasticizing in glycerol.

Importantly, the chlamydospores survived the manufacturing process and could be resurrected to develop new hyphae over skin breaks.

If the material is used in the same circumstances it was developed in, tests on it have shown that it can actually repair holes that have been created in it. Although the material was still as robust as before, the holes were still visible.

The researchers add, "The capacity of this regenerative mycelium material to heal micro and macro defects opens interesting future prospects for novel product applications in furniture, automotive seats, and fashion apparel."

Additionally, the researchers worked with the Pleurotus ostreatus fungus, which is free of chlamydospores. It was clear that the chlamydospores were what gave the material its capacity to renew because it was unable to self-heal in the same way.

Before you start donning fungus-made clothing, there is a long way to go. For instance, the current growing and healing processes take several days to complete; but, over time, this might be sped up.

Engineered living materials, or ELMs as they are known by researchers, are intriguing because they can be altered in a variety of ways and can adapt to their surroundings since they include live cells.

Because of its useful qualities, including self-assembly, sensing, and self-healing, engineered living materials made completely of fungi "offer significant potential," the researchers wrote.

The research has been published in Advanced Functional Materials.