It’s the fungus mushrooms are made of, but it can also produce everything from plastics to plant-based meat to a scaffolding for growing organs—and much more
Humans have been harnessing the power of yeast for thousands of years. These fungi allow fermentation, the molecular process whereby living cells typically transform sugar or starch into more complex molecules or chemicals.
Around three decades ago, humans applied the potential of liquid fermentation to create medicines. In 1978 Arthur Riggs and Keiichi Itakura produced the first biosynthetic insulin using E. coli as a single-celled manufacturing plant. The epiphany that single-celled bacteria and yeast are sugar-powered microfactories that can be utilized to synthesize novel compounds is one of the most powerful discoveries of the past 100 years.
Mycelium is technically a kind of a yeast, but unlike most yeast cells, which grow as a single cell, mycelium is multicellular and can grow into macro-size structures—which we most often recognize as mushrooms.
Directing the growth of mushroom fibers may not sound like a big deal, but this evolution in biofabrication stands to transform the way we manufacture, consume and live. What are the possibilities? Mycelium’s fast-growing fibers produce materials used for packaging, clothing, food and construction—everything from leather to plant-based steak to scaffolding for growing organs. Mycelium, when harnessed as a technology, helps replace plastics that are rapidly accumulating in the environment.
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