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A Future in Fungi

BLOG 44: In the breakout movie, Fantastic Fungi, one gets introduced to mycologist Paul Stamets. Stamets is a pioneer inventor and myco-entrepreneur extraordinaire who wants to save the world from contaminants. He has outlined the technological future of fungi in his book 'Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Save The World.' It is a real eye-opener and a fascinating read. Stamets and his work has brought the genius-level workings of the Funga Kingdom, particularly with mycelium, to the mainstream. 

The Funga Kingdom is literally amazing and humankind has known this for a long time and predate humans by millions of years. Specimens were found in 90-million year old amber resin. Mushrooms fossils that have been unburied are dated 420 million years old. Mycelium, the vegitative-like roots, are actually the traveling vegetative-like part of fungi living just below the surface. The visible part of the ‘mushroom’ or what pops up above the surface is the fruit body carrying the spores for ‘seeding’ hyphe into the soil. Hyphae are the network of web-like threads called mycelium, from which mushrooms grow. Mycelia are commonly found in fields, forests and heavily wooded areas. Mycelium secrete enzymes to break down food sources to then be reabsorbed as dinner. Mycelia can be microscopic or span thousands of acres. In fact, the mycelia of an Armillaria ostoyae presently living in Oregon is 965 hectares (2384 acres, 10 square kilometers). It beat out the 200 ton, 110ft long blue whale! In fact one cubic inch of soil contains  8 miles of  mycelia.

The underground hyphae threads, we call mycelium, are multifunctional. They play a critical part in their ecosystems by aiding in the decomposition and regeneration in the soil-making process.  

Mycelium have complex symbiotic and mycorrhizal relationships with over 90% of the earth’s vegetation. They travel to their food and wrap themselves around the roots of the forest and fields and exchange minerals and water for sugary carbs the plants made through photosynthesis. The mycelium are coated with chitin material and this hard shell aids in its travel through soil. Fungi do not photosynthesize and therefore find this relationship to be mutualistic as the trees and plants up their survival and longevity by several notches. Mycelia travel at a speed of 7mm per day but the speed becomes exponential after only a week. 

The mushroom fruit body releases spores onto the ground and into the air. In the ground the spores germinate to hyphae within 24 hours when the conditions are right. Some mycelia exist in certain regions of the world and many are undiscovered. What we know is that the unique funga world is critical to decay and renewal processes on Earth. Their unique decay process is used in myco-remediation to eliminate contaminants that are otherwise not biodegradable, like plastics and unrefined oil. 

Mycelium is a sustainable, renewable resource and is ecologically-friendly to our planet. It can be regrown and recycled over and over again. Among many other things, Mycelia can be used for making materials that are vegan, stronger, lighter and fire-resistant. It can be made into a material that mimics leather, a bonding material to make things like strong bricks or light packaging. Fungi provide endless possibilities of material mimicry. 

Surfing the Fantastic Fungi website I was delighted by some of the first commercial technological uses for mycelium. Mylo material and Mycocomposite are mycelium products used specifically in the tapestry and shipping industries as a vegan leather substitute and packaging substitute to styrofoam. Exciting new materials that offer alternatives to the cattle and petroleum industries. 

Mushroom leather and suede is not new; it's been around for centuries in Corund Transylvania. Artisans in Corund still to this very day carry the tradition of harvesting the inner material of the conk Fomes Fomentarius. This inner material, called Amadou, is felted into a tough leather-like material used to make hats and purses. Our local forests of birch trees are filled with this easy to spot mushroom conk. Have you seen it? It has similar look-alikes but once you get to know these conks they are easy to distinguish from one another. Big companies like LuluLemon, Hermès, adidas and Stella McCartney have recently taken part in selling mushroom products! Lululemon is selling duffle bags and handbags made from Mylo, a mycelium product. Stella McCartney is also using mylo materials and sewing mushroom patterned dresses. I recently read an article in Vogue about McCartney and she has never designed anything made from animal products. Being vegan McCartney is against using animals. She also doesn't use Faux leather because it is derived from the petroleum extraction business. Stella McCartney immediately saw the benefits of using vegan mushrooms in 'leather-like' fashions and jumped on the bandwagon with the others. Unfortunately being a new industry the prices are high at the moment but will come down when more purchases in Mushroom materials are made. Lululemon's mylo duffle bag starts at a whopping $328 USD. adidas Stan Smith Mylo runners are reputed to be priced the same as any other similar Stan Smith shoe in the line. They start at $120 CAD. An Amadou felt hat starts around $300. 

Mylo material, made from mycelium, is the creation of Bolt Threads. An exciting fungi startup company preaching a future in creating the next generation of new innovative materials. adidas touts Mylo material as taking less than two weeks to grow and that this process takes advantage of cutting-edge vertical agricultural technique allowing it to be in a controlled environment that increases the yield per square foot. A great step forward in ending plastics !powered by 100% renewable energy. Leather alternatives are usually made from petroleum products Polyurethane, PVC and other plastics. 

Myocomposite is a new and exciting mushroom packaging material from Ecovative. Did you know IKEA announced in 2020 that they had completely ditched their styrofoam packaging materials for Ecovative's mycelium packaging composite. Myco-composite’s mycelium is grown in a medium of husks, hemp Hurd or other agricultural byproducts and can be formed in any shape of protective packaging. So cool! Did you know styrofoam is reputed to take thousands of years to degrade. Mycocomposite takes just weeks. What's next? It's reputed that Apple Watch and Fitbit are working on a mycelium monitoring system bio-fueled by mycelia. Is there nothing this creature cannot do? Nope. It is predicted that 2.6 billion dollars will be circulated in the near future fungi economic system. Wow. There is a great future ahead for mycologists, myco-engineers, myco-foragers, myco-design, myco-remediation, and infinitum. 



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