Eco-friendly fungus leather looks and feels like the real thing

From processing plastic waste to sequestering carbon to protecting astronauts from cosmic radiation, fungi have the incredible potential to benefit a wide range of industries.

According to a recent study, this impressive living organism also holds the potential to help scientists develop a more sustainable alternative to animal leather that looks and feels like the real thing.

A recent research paper from the University of Vienna, Imperial College London, and RMIT University in Australia, states that fungi, which are readily available in nature, could outshine regular leather and become a more sustainable and cost-effective substitute.

“Fungi-derived leather substitutes are an emerging class of ethically and environmentally responsible fabrics that are increasingly meeting consumer aesthetic and functional expectations and winning favor as an alternative to bovine and synthetic leathers,” says the study.

One of the production possibilities involves using low-cost agricultural and forestry by-products, like sawdust, as a base to grow mycelium on. Mycelium is the vegetative part of a fungus made of long strands that connect the root systems of different plants and help them communicate.

The mycelium is then grown into sheet form over the course of a couple of weeks, after which it goes through a pressing process, producing a material with a similar texture to animal leather. This material mainly consists of biodegradable elements such as chitin and glucan biopolymers.

According to the researchers, using fungi to manufacture leather could be of particular interest to eco-conscious consumers and the vegan community, as well as the increasing number of fashion brands seeking to reduce their environmental footprint.

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