Expanding material properties of mycelium
We are facing a growing need for new sustainable architectural materials with limited carbon footprints. Polymeric biomaterials from natural sources such as plant cellulose, lignin, pectin or plant and animal proteins offer a biodegradable, sustainable and biocompatible solution for future material design. Mycelium fungal hyphae is particularly promising; it is a natural polymeric composite fibrous material, containing polymers of chitin and cellulose (Haneef et al., 2017). However, mycelium grows relatively slowly, has limited hydrophobicity and unknown endurance, which could limit its application for long term construction. Previous efforts to improve mycelium properties have been limited, as they purely rely on genetic enhancement, and varying mycelium species or nutrition source (Mycoworks Homepage, 2018; Haneef et al., 2017).
Cyanobacteria and mycelium symbiosis
Symbiotic relationships between fungi and photosynthetic have been shown to exist in nature as cyanolichens (Frey-Klett et al., 2011). Cyanobacteria such as Geosiphon pyriforme and Nostoc punctiforme form a specialized physical structure with fungal hyphae. They become enclosed in a swollen “multinucleate fungal bladder”, in which they are surrounded by the fungal membrane, seen in Figure 1. (Frey-Klett et al., 2011). Their relationship with mycelium has resulted in an enhancement of photosynthetic rate, and the bacterial ability to reduce acetylene and fix atmospheric nitrogen (Lumini et al., 2006). The cyanobacteria are likely to act as significant sources of carbon and fixed nitrogen for mycelium, affecting fungal nutrition and growth rate. Further, other bacteria strains and mycelium can exchange nutrients which either partner cannot produce themselves (Frey-Klett et al., 2011).
So, what’s the plan?
Our project aims to experiment with mycelium in order to exploit the properties of the material. This includes growing mycelium with an endosymbiotic cyanobacteria strain to create a novel mycelium material, or “mycterial”, with more advantages over previous fungi based biomaterials. We hypothesise that an assembled symbiosis between cyanobacteria and mycelium could increase mycelium growth by providing better access to nutrients and shortening the time to grow desired mycelium structures. For more details, my colleague Fernanda Bolaños has outlined our full experiment in her blog post. Further, Ivan Shpurov expands on novel mycelium properties resulting from growing mycelium with non-living metal nanoparticles. Luis Guzman Martinez will then focus on possible design ideas and aesthetics of these novel materials.
(Post by Laura Turpeinen)
Frey-Klett, P., Burlinson, P., Deveau, A., Barret, M., Tarkka, M. and Sarniguet, A. (2011). Bacterial-Fungal Interactions: Hyphens between Agricultural, Clinical, Environmental, and Food Microbiologists. Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews, 75(4), pp.583-609.
Haneef, M., Ceseracciu, L., Canale, C., Bayer, I., Heredia-Guerrero, J. and Athanassiou, A. (2017). Advanced Materials From Fungal Mycelium: Fabrication and Tuning of Physical Properties. Scientific Reports, 7, p.41292.
Mycoworks Homepage. (2018). MycoWorks. Retrieved 24 March 2018, from http://www.mycoworks.com/
Lumini, E., Ghignone, S., Bianciotto, V. and Bonfante, P. (2006). Endobacteria or bacterial endosymbionts? To be or not to be. New Phytologist, 170(2), pp.205-208.