A group of researchers from Finland, the Netherlands, and Germany has discovered a type of magical mushroom that can be used as an alternative material to make plastic.
The mushroom is called tinder fungus or Fomes fomentarius in Latin, which is essentially a wood fiber eater and is often used as a medicine.
However, this mushroom now has a purpose as a biodegradable alternative to plastic, thanks to the fusion of mycelium.
Mycelium is a thin filament known as hifa, which forms a network of roots that spread through soil or decaying material.
According to Science Alert, the research team revealed that in the case of tinder fungus, this network can be divided into three different layers.
“Mycelium is the main component in all layers. However, in each layer, mycelium shows a very different microstructure with unique preferred orientation, aspect ratio, density, and branch length,” said the researchers.
The team also observed the structure and chemical composition of the mushroom body using samples collected in Finland.
Mechanical strength tests were combined with detailed scanning of the fungus to examine its characteristics in detail.
It was found that there are three layers, the hard and thin outer crust that encases the foamy layer beneath it, and the stack of hollow tubular structures in the core.
The researchers discovered that the hollow tubes that make up most of the F. fomentarius fruit body can withstand greater force than the foamy layer, all without significant dislocation or deformation.
This mushroom must have a structure that is incapable of withstanding the harshness of seasonal changes and fallen tree branches from above. This is the toughness that can inspire new synthetic materials.
“What is remarkable is that, with minimal changes in cell morphology and extracellular polymer composition, they formulate a variety of materials with different physicochemical performances that exceed most natural and man-made materials that are typically subjected to property trade-offs,” wrote the researchers.
“We believe that the findings should be of interest to a broad audience of material scientists and beyond.”
F. fomentarius plays a role in nature by attaching itself to dead trees and releasing essential nutrients that should remain in the bark. Now, it can be more beneficial in the field of material science.
This is part of continuing research on the potential of living materials, using living cells in a controlled and programmed way to achieve specific types of materials.
“These results can offer a great source of inspiration for producing multifunctional materials with superior properties for various medical and industrial applications in the future,” wrote the researchers in the journal Science Advances.