Researchers in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, have developed a self-healing vegan leather using the mycelium of Ganoderma lucidum, a medicinal mushroom from Asia. According to the researchers, the leather has dormant fungal spores that can regrow and repair damaged areas such as scratches and holes.
Mycelium, the living vegetative part of filamentous fungi, has functional properties such as regrowth, sensing, and self-healing. This rootlike structure is already used to create animal-free leather for wallets, bags, and hats. However, the production process of these products hampers the growth of the fungus.
The team led by Elise Elsacker at the Hub for Biotechnology in the Built Environment decided to investigate the conditions under which mycelium can retain its regrowth ability and demonstrate its self-repairing properties even after being transformed into a material.
What did they find?
Key findings from the study revealed that chlamydospores, vegetative cells within mycelium, play a crucial role in the material’s self-healing process.
To develop the unique leather, the team experimented with controlling and optimizing the production process to allow the chlamydospores to stay dormant in the material. They tried different nutrient solutions, temperatures, chemicals, and procedures to find the proper conditions, reports ScienceNews.
Afterward, the scientists discovered that they only had to use the solution utilized in the initial leather production process to wake up the chlamydospores and stimulate the growth of new threads.
To evaluate the effectiveness of the revived spores, the researchers perforated the leather and observed the progression of new mycelia forming over the holes soaked in the nutrient solution. With time, these regrown areas regained the same strength as the undamaged sections.
Self-repairing garments from this unique material and method could be possible in the next decade. Still, more research has to be done to improve the process, Martyn Dade-Robertson, co-author of the research, told ScienceNews.
The team has published an open-source of their findings at Advanced Functional Materials to assist fellow researchers and scientists in developing mycelium living materials.