Mycterials – Expanding The Mycelium Toolbox

The concept of biodesign implies not only creating practically applicable biological concepts, but to challenge previous concepts to impress and capture imagination.

At Mycterials, we aim to expand on the one-sided strategies used to engineer mushrooms for functional design. Mycelium, or polymers of fungal hyphae, is an exciting sustainable and cost effective biomaterial. Mycelium is a natural source of chitin that forms dense polymer networks, which can be cultured into desired shapes and and engineered for specific material properties (Haneef et al., 2017). Growing bulks of mycelium in controlled environments and oven baking them can be used create highly durable materials (Mycoworks Homepage, 2018). However, the slow growth rate, unknown and unpredictable endurance of mycelium prevents its application in long term construction (Islam et al., 2017). Additionally, current mycelium preparation methods are limited by the size of the moulds and ovens used. Past efforts to expand the mycelium tool box have been limited to varying growth substrates and genetic engineering (Haneef et al., 2017; Mycoworks Homepage, 2018).

We will introduce two new creative assets: symbiotic bacteria and iron particles. For the bacterial symbiosis, we chose cyanobacteria due to the possible exchange of useful nutrients and carbon to increase mycelium growth (Lumini et al., 2006; Frey-Klett et al., 2011). Then we hope to give mycelium metallic properties by growing mycelia hyphae using metal as a structural lattice (Jennings, et all 1984), which will allow magnetic manipulation and self baking through magnetic heat resonance (Grants et al., 2017). This method allows to create sustainable biomaterials as  food waste (e.g. used coffee powder) and recycled scrap iron could be used.

We categorised three groups during our Mycterial testing experiment (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Group 1. Substrate testing for mycelium growing. Two mushroom strains were used to expand the characteristics of mycelium – Tremella fuciformis and Pleurotus ostreatus. Tremella f., also known as silver ear fungus, are fungi that parasite other mushroom colonies that decompose wood (Money, N.P. 2016). Pleurotus o. belongs to the basidiomycetes group and is the second most cultivated mushroom in the world. This fungi requiring less time to grow compared to other mushrooms, and would be an ideal candidate for developing novel mycelium based materials (Petre, V. et al. 2016). Tremella f. grown in oats (oT), Pleurotus o. grown in oats (oP), Tremella f. grown in ground coffee beans (cT), Pleurotus o. grown in ground coffee beans (cP). The image on the left shows the initial day of the experiment, the image on the right shows the experiment after 30 days of growth.

 

Figure 2. Group 2. Engineering novel material characteristics to mycelium using non-living (iron) materials. Control of Tremella f. (CTL-t), Pleurotus o. Control (CTL-p), Tremella f. with medium size metal particles (MPm-t), Pleurotus o. with medium size metal particles (MPm-p), Tremella f. small size metal particles (MPs-t), Pleurotus o. with small size metal particles (MPs-p). The image on the left shows the initial day of the experiment, the image on the right shows the experiment after 30 days of growth.
Figure 3. Group 3. Engineering novel material characteristics to mycelium using living (Cyanobacteria). Tremella f Control (CTL-t), Control Pleurotus o. (CTL-p), Tremella f. + Pleurotus o. combination in 1:1 ratio (FC1), Tremella f. + Pleurotus o. combination in 1:1 ratio (FC2), Tremella f. + Pleurotus o. combination in 1:1 ratio (FC1), Tremella f. + Pleurotus o. combination in 2:1 ratio (FC3), Tremella f. + Pleurotus o. combination in 1:2 ratio (FC4), Tremella f. with cianobacteria (CB-t), Pleurotus o. with cianobacteria (CB-p). The image on the left shows the initial day of the experiment, the image on the right shows the experiment after 30 days of growth.

We chose to illustrate metallic properties such as magnetism with a prototype, which is both a proof of concept as well as an art piece.

We used magnetic levitation to make a block of mycelium with embedded  magnet to float above a plain surface. We used a floating magnetic globe for spare parts for creating display model and previously grown mycelia cube (Figure 3). Simple combination of two dipole magnets placed opposite each other generates enough force to lift the mycelium block. Achieving stability is a more challenging task – however, this problem can be solved by using electromagnets to balance out the stationary magnet (Hones et al, 1995).

Figure 4. Preparing our self grown mycelium for our final prototype. Unbaked mycelium was grown on coffee powder (block on the left), whereas a styrofoam copy was crafted and painted as a backup (block on the right). Blocks with a higher density of mycelium should be used for real life applications.

 

Figure 5. Final prototype displaying the magnetic metallic properties of mycelium. The mycelium brick is floating due to the magnetic force lift.

 

This contactless metal melting approach could therefore be applied to fire and solidify the mycelium mass via induction heating. This could be used to create durable constructs for building sustainable and sturdy architectural designs of previously impossible shapes. Furthermore, the synthetic bacterial symbiosis could improve the growth process, capture carbon from the atmosphere. However, further research is needed to map out the exact relationship between mycelium and bacteria, to test the impact on growth rate and durability. Additionally, as seen from our own experiment, external contamination can hamper mycelium growth. This could be avoided by creating the material in a sterile environment with controlled temperature.

(Post by Fernanda Bolaños, Ivan Shpurov, Laura Turpeinen & Luis Guzmán Martinez )

References

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.

Grants, I. et al., 2017. Contactless magnetic excitation of acoustic cavitation in liquid metals Contactless magnetic excitation of acoustic cavitation in liquid metals. , 204901(2015).

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.

Hones et al. (1995) USOOS404062A United States Patent (19) Magnetic levitation device and method Inventors: Edward W. Hones, Los Alamos, N. Mex.; William G. Hones.

Islam, M. R., Tudryn, G., Bucinell, R., Schadler, L., & Picu, R. C. (2017). Morphology and mechanics of fungal mycelium. Scientific Reports, 7, 13070. http://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-13295-2Lumini, 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.

Jennings, D.H. and Rayner, A.D.M. (eds) (1984). The Ecology and Physiology of the Fungal Mycelium, Eighth Symposium of the British Mycological Society,

Mycoworks Homepage. (2018). MycoWorks. Retrieved 24 March 2018, from http://www.mycoworks.com/

Money, N.P. (2016). The Fungi. Third Edition, Chapter 1- Fungal Diversity, p. 1–36 https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-382034-1.00001-3

Petre, V., Petre, M., Rusea, I., Stănică, F. (2016). Mushroom Biotechnology, Developments and Applications. Chapter 2- Biotechnological Recycling of Fruit Tree Wastes by Solid-State Cultivation of Mushrooms, p. 19–29. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-802794-3.00002-3