The substance in question is a type of mushroom known as Fomes fomentarius. It grows on the rotting bark of trees and has historically been used mainly as a fire starter, lending it the nickname “tinder fungus.” (It has also been called “hoof fungus” because its shape resembles a hoof.)
However, a research team at the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland thinks that it could be much more than that.
“F. fomentarius fruiting bodies are ingeniously lightweight biological designs, simple in composition but efficient in performance,” the team’s study, published in Science Advances, said. “Growing the material using simple ingredients is an alternative solution to overcome the cost, time, mass production, and sustainability of how we make and consume materials in the future.”
In short, instead of mass-producing plastic at an enormous cost to our planet, in the future, we could simply grow a mushroom with similar structural integrity to plastic at scale.
F. fomentarius “has a very stiff and hard protective outer layer, has softer spongy mid-layer, and a strong and tough inner layer,” according to Dr. Pezhman Mohammadi, one of the co-authors of the study, meaning that its uses could be incredibly versatile.
Mohammadi told CNN that potential uses for F. fomentarius could include things ranging from shock-absorption materials, heat, and sound insulation, and even consumer product parts.
While the mushroom takes seven to 10 years to grow to a significant size in the wild, the researchers think that in a lab setting, they could produce plenty of it within a matter of weeks. “With the advances in industrial biotechnology, we forecast the production of metric tons [worth of mushrooms] in a matter of weeks in contrast to wild-type mushrooms that take years to grow,” Mohammadi said.
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