Using mycelium to create a self-healing wearable leather-like material

In the United Kingdom, a team of biotechnologists from Newcastle University and Northumbria University have discovered a technique to utilize mycelium to make a self-healing wearable material. Elise Elsacker, Martyn Dade-Robertson, and Meng Zhang detail their procedure and how well it performed in tests in their study that was published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.

Some forms of fungi generate a structure resembling thread called mycelium. Prior studies have demonstrated that fungi may form colonies with branching mycelium that intertwines, leading to the development of massive, matted structures. Usually, these kinds of constructions are underground. Due to their likeness to cow skin leather, previous studies have demonstrated that mycelium mats may be processed to create a substance known as mycelium leather.

However, as the study team points out, these procedures often result in the death of chlamydospores, tiny nodules that enable the material to reanimate under the appropriate conditions. After looking at samples and the leathering procedure, they thought about if they might alter the procedure to avoid destroying the chlamydospores, which may enable the material to self-heal when placed in a favorable environment.

By introducing active chlamydospores to a watery batch of carbohydrates, proteins, and other nutrients, the researchers generated their own batch of mycelium. Then they gave the liquid time to cool and develop a thick skin. The skin was then removed from the liquid by the team and spread out to dry. They used a combination of temperatures and chemicals throughout the drying process to enable the material to resemble leather without eradicating the imbedded chlamydospores.

Testing of the finished product revealed that it resembled other mycelium leathers in terms of appearance and properties. The team poked holes in it and then submerged it in the same liquid bath that had been used to create it to see whether it could self-heal. After that, they dried it out, observing that the regenerated chlamydospores gradually filled up the gaps. Although scientists noticed that it was still easy to discern where the holes had been, testing revealed that the recently healed material was equally as strong as an undamaged control sample.