Funky Fungus: A Biodegradable Alternative to Plastic?


| LAST UPDATE 02/26/2023

By Stanley Wickens
fungus plastic alternative research
Instagram via @dinahs_worldofwonder

Have you heard of the tinder fungus? It's a weird-looking fungus that could be the answer to our plastic problem! Yep, you read that right. This wood-eating fungus has some pretty surprising properties that make it a natural, biodegradable alternative to certain plastics and other materials. Move over, plastic - there's a new kid in town!

The Fomes fomentarius has been historically used to catch sparks for fires and even incorporated into clothing and medicine. But now, scientists have discovered that its mycelium is made up of thin filaments called hyphae that form root-like networks which could be split into three distinct layers. The primary component in all layers is mycelium, but each layer exhibits a unique microstructure with different characteristics like density and aspect ratio. The researchers took a closer look at the structural and chemical composition of this funky fungus by conducting mechanical strength tests combined with detailed scans. And guess what? Parts of the fungus were as strong as plywood, pine or leather while also being more lightweight than those materials. Talk about having it all!

fungus plastic alternative fomentarius
Instagram via @dinahs_worldofwonder
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This fungus has to withstand the changing seasons and tree branches falling down from above - so it's built tough. And the best part? Stronger materials are usually heavier and more dense, but not this time! With minimal changes in their cell morphology and extracellular polymeric composition, they formulate diverse materials with distinct physiochemical performances that surpass most natural and human-made materials. "These results could offer a great source of inspiration for producing multifunctional materials with superior properties for diverse medical and industrial applications in the future," write the researchers.

So what does this mean for us? Well, we're not exactly sure yet - but understanding how this fungus is constructed on a cellular level is an important step towards discovering where it can be used. Who knows? Maybe one day, we'll see it being used as an alternative to plastic or other synthetic materials. We can't wait to see what other weird wonders nature has in store for us!

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