Can you “program” a mushroom to create usable materials?

MycoWorks talks about how they “program” the mighty mushroom to create a leather-like material.

Vocabulary: fungi, mycelium, substrate, stresses, and cultivate
 NGSS: LS1.A: Structure and Function (HS, MS, 4th Grade)

MycoWorks’ mushroom leather. Credit: Science Friday

As it stands, the mushroom is a pretty multi-purpose organism: Aside from its ecological functions, it can be eaten as nourishment, brewed as tea, taken as a naturopathic remedy, and used in dyes. But a San Francisco start-up by the name of MycoWorks has even more plans for mushrooms, starting with a leather-like material made from the fungi.

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Questions for Students

  • Explain why Philip Ross describes fungus as “programmable”. How does MycoWorks accomplish this “programing”?
  • Why do you think people might be resistant to materials made from mushrooms? Recommend 2–3 strategies you think MycoWorks could use to combat resistance to this material.
  • Why is it important to know how Ganoderma lucidum responds to stresses? How does this help MycoWorks?
  • Why is mushroom leather better for the environment than animal-leather?
  • Based on Philip Ross’ descriptions of the diverse materials they created, what would you want to try creating from mycelium? Draw and describe one idea.

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