A pair of Newcastle University biotechnologists, working with a colleague from Northumbria University, all in the UK, have developed a way to use fungi to create a self-healing wearable. In their paper published in the journal Advanced functional materialsand Elise Elsacker, Martyn Dade-Robertson, and Meng Zhang, describing their process and how well it worked when tested.
Mycelium is a thread-like structure produced by some types of fungi. Previous research has shown that fungal colonies can arise as branching mycelium tangles, resulting in the growth of large, loosely knit structures. Such structures are usually found in the ground. Previous research has also shown that mycelium mats can be processed to produce a material known as fungus leather, due to its similarities to cowhide.
But as the research trio noted, such treatments tend to kill chlamydial spores—tiny nodules that allow matter to return to life under the right conditions. After examining the samples and the skin process, they thought they could change things up a bit to prevent killing of chlamydial spores, which might allow the material to self-heal when placed in a favorable environment.
The researchers grew their own group of fungi by adding active chlamydial spores to a watery pool of carbohydrates, proteins, and other nutrients. Then they allowed enough time to pass a thick skin across the liquid. Then the team pulled the skin out of the liquid and laid it out to dry. As it dried, they applied a combination of temperatures and chemicals that allowed the material to become leather-like without killing the embedded chlamydial spores.
Testing of the resulting material has shown that it is similar to other fungal leathers in shape and properties. To see if it could heal itself, the group punched holes in it and then placed it in a jar filled with the same liquid bath that was used to create it. Then they laid it out to dry and, while doing so, noticed that over time, the revived chlamydial spores filled in the holes. Testing showed that the newly recovered material was just as strong as an undamaged control sample, although they noted that it could still be told where the holes were.
Elise Elsacker et al, Fungal engineered living materials: feasibility of purified fungal materials with self-healing functions, Advanced functional materials (2023). DOI: 10.1002/adfm.202301875
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